Studio tape recorder, one-track, metal / glass / rubber / plastic, made by Ampex, United States of America, used by Festival Records, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1953-1958
This Ampex recording machine was a key piece of equipment at the Festival Records recording studio in the company's early years. An Australian record company, Festival was for over 50 years a significant force in the music recording industry. It financed, recorded, manufactured, promoted, marketed, distributed and published a huge range of local and overseas music, from classical to popular, under an equally vast number of labels. Although a major record company, it was independent of the five multinational companies that dominated the industry worldwide.
Established in Sydney in 1952, Festival Records was quick to realise its potential by obtaining licensing rights to overseas recordings and developing its own local artists. The fledgling company set up a factory and soon became the second largest manufacturer of gramophone records in Australia. It played a crucial role in bringing rock 'n' roll to Australian audiences by releasing Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock' and developing a large roster of local rock 'n' roll talent headed by Johnny O'Keefe and Col Joye.
When concert promoter Lee Gordon established his own record company, it was the first of many locally owned, independent record labels to work with Festival. Usually these independent labels contracted and recorded the artists while Festival manufactured the records and handled their distribution, promotion and marketing.
Over three decades, international artists were the backbone of Festival's sales in Australia. The policy of obtaining the Australian rights to manufacture and distribute recordings from independent overseas record companies brought labels like A&M, Island, DJM and Liberty to Festival. Festival Records continued to maintain its own stable of recording artists.
In 1972 the Melbourne-based Mushroom Records formed a relationship with Festival Records that would prove enduring and hugely successful. When Festival Records merged with Mushroom Records in 1998, the combined entity had the largest catalogue of Australian recorded music. In 2005 Festival Mushroom Records was bought by the multinational conglomerate Warner Music.
Festival manufactured vinyl records in Sydney for 40 years. At the height of production in the 1980s Festival's factory was buzzing with 26 record presses pumping out 25,000 records per day. In addition there was a cassette duplicating plant, an art department, a printing department for album covers, plus a huge warehouse for packing and distribution.
Festival Records provided a home to a vast array of musical styles and many independent labels not readily identified with the Festival brand. For over fifty years its existence as a major independent record company, competing with the multinationals, helped to create a healthy environment for Australian music.
This Ampex single track tape machine was used at Festival Records' recording studio during the 1950s and remained in use until the early 1960s. It was displayed in the Museum's exhibition 'Spinning Around: 50 Years of Festival Records', 2001-2003.
Festival built its own studio shortly after it moved to 223-229 Harris St in 1955. Recording techniques were primitive and limited to one-track recording on this Ampex tape machine. In the days before multi-track recording, songs were put down live at a single session. The band and singer recorded all at once. Records were mono rather than stereo.
Festival's recording engineer Robert Iredale quickly learnt to improvise with Festival's makeshift technology. To pick up each member of the band, microphone stands were placed on cabinets, chairs or piles of books. Most singers and musicians were newcomers to recording techniques. Iredale devised an ingenious system of washers and lead weights to selectively slow down or speed up the Ampex tape machine to correct the pitch when necessary. To obtain the fashionable echo vocal effect, Iredale used the ladies' toilet. The old studio wasn't completely sound proof, and former studio manager Barry Nagel once claimed that the gear changes of trucks on Harris St were audible on early Bee Gees recordings.
Festival Records' studio technicians kept old studio machinery in working order. Years later archival tapes were transferred to DAT using the machines on which they were originally recorded.