History of Record Labels and the Music Industry: 1930s
by Alex Cosper

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

see also American Radio History


- Brunswick was bought by motion picture company Warner Brothers in 1930.

- In 1931 Victor experimented with 33 and 1/3 rpm vinyl records to replace 78 rpm records, but the market did not respond due to the Depression, so it was discontinued after two years. The idea was simply ahead of its time and would have to wait for over a decade before Columbia made the concept successful.

- The Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) was established in 1931 after the merger of Columbia and the American Gramophone Company. That year EMI opened its Abbey Road recording studios in London. It was also that year EMI began development on stereo recording. One of its new labels included Parlophone, established in the UK in the 1910s.

- In the early 1930s the American Recording Company (ARC) moved in to become a big player in the record industry by buying out small independent labels. ARC leased Brunswick from Warner Brothers in 1931 and also picked up Banner, Cameo, Conqueror, Melotone, Pathe, Perfect, OKeh, Romeo and Vocalion. ARC became a giant in 1934 by purchasing Columbia, which had sold to radio manufacturer Grisby-Grunow a few years earlier, but went bankrupt. In 1938 ARC was bought by CBS network founder William Paley. The Columbia name was kept under the CBS umbrella.

- The two leading record companies of the decade became ARC and Decca, whose UK operation bought Decca's UK branch in 1932. Ted Lewis set up the American division of Decca in 1934. RCA Victor rounded out the big three.

- European label Decca began to sell more affordable records for 35 cents in 1935, which helped stimulate record sales and boost the careers of its top artists, such as Bing Crosby.

- The end of the alcohol prohibition era ended, leading to the opening of thousands of new bars across America. Many of these bars included jukeboxes, which opened the door for a new way to sell music.

- Billboard began publishing weekly surveys in 1934 based on radio airplay. The following year a new nationally syndicated weekly radio show called "Your Hit Parade" was launched and became popular quickly. The show was a review of the top ten most popular songs in the nation for the week, based on record sales, radio airplay and sheet music sales.

- Benny Goodman kicked off the swing era in 1935 with weekly live band performances on the popular nationally-syndicated NBC radio show "Let's Dance." Within a few years a dance craze grew out of swing music known as "The Jitterbug." Goodman came to be known as the "King of Swing." Goodman is also remembered for including African-American jazz musicians in his band.

- Alfred Lions founded Blue Note Records in 1939.

- The most popular recording artist of the decade, according to music researcher Joel Whitburn, was Bing Crosby. His big 1932 hit "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" summarized the Great Depression and remains a classic in the history of social commentary music.

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

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