Recording Studios on Tour: Victor’s Expeditions through Latin America, 1905–28

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM
Virginia Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Sergio Ospina-Romero, Cornell University
Between March and November 1913, recording scouts of the Victor Talking Machine Company established temporary recordings studios in Cuba, Peru, and Colombia. After setting up their equipment, they faced multiple challenges, including identifying local talent, negotiating copyright deals, and wrangling tardy performers into the studio. These scouts were attempting to follow the master plan of Victor executives to open up new markets for the phonograph. Yet it was up to them and the people they worked with to figure out how to put Victor’s plans into practice. Through their improvisatory strategies and collaborations with local people, these scouts played a crucial role in the configuration of a novel commercial category of “ethnic” records aimed at U.S. immigrants and foreign customers. By focusing on Victor’s Latin American expeditions during the acoustic era, I argue that engaging with the daily actions of recording scouts offers a significant new approach towards examining the global expansion of the music industry. Drawing from original archival material, including the daily ledgers of the expeditions, I examine the interactions between scouts and locals to reveal the improvisatory interactions at the center of the music industry’s global expansion. By exploring how scouts negotiated with performers, middle-men, and translators through a series of mundane encounters, the paper challenges top-down stories of popular music’s global dimension. Through this history, I contend, we can glimpse the uneven nature of the industry’s expansion and find a far more complicated story of popular music’s global spread. The study of Victor’s expeditions constitutes a key contribution to the understanding of the commercial strategies, musical entanglements, and social networks that accompanied the consolidation of recorded popular music as a central facet of popular culture in general, and of the nascent music industry in particular.
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