An Oral History – Billboard


On Oct. 1, 1982, in Japan, when Billy Joel‘s 52nd Road turned the first-ever CD to go on sale, two electronics giants had been pushing for years to modify from the beloved vinyl LP to the shiny new digital-optical disc. Sony in Japan and Philips in Eindhoven, Netherlands, had invented the compact-disc {hardware}, and so they had been aggressively lobbying the world’s greatest labels to supply the software program – music – to go together with it.

As much as that time, the labels wouldn’t cooperate – not even CBS Information, Sony’s longtime associate for years earlier than the electronics firm purchased it outright in 1987. “If there would have been rotten eggs accessible, they’d have thrown them at me,” recollects Jan Timmer, then head of Philips Worldwide, of an Athens, Greece, music-industry convention the place he tried to introduce the brand new format to a roomful of defensive report executives. One was Jerry Moss, head of A&M Information, who pounded his fist on a desk. Again then, skeptical label salespeople referred to as the CD “Jerry Shulman‘s Frisbee,” a reference to CBS’ market-research director, the label’s prime CD evangelist.

Over time, the execs wore down because of a sustained attraction initiative from Sony-Philips bigwigs, plus a scrappy coalition of label entrepreneurs working with MTV, radio stations and even CD-friendly stars akin to Stevie Wonder. The disc kicked in by the late ’80s, delivering a increase that continued till the web, MP3s and Napster almost killed it off by the mid-2000s. (Utilizing comparable expertise, DVD and even CD-ROM and digital storage turned requirements in their very own industries.) As we speak, CDs are largely relics, confined to audiophile collections and live performance merch — though some retailers see early indicators of a vinyl-like comeback. Right here’s an oral historical past of the introduction of the CD:

The Early Days

Michael “Mickey” Schulhof, former president of Sony Corp.’s U.S. division: Once I listened to the primary digital-audio recordings in Tokyo, I beloved it. There was no floor hiss. You can entry any of the tracks — one thing you might not simply do with a cassette or an LP. Sony requested me to be the liaison and the negotiator between Sony and Philips.

Herbie Hancock, jazz musician: There’s a report referred to as The Piano that I recorded in Japan. It was one of many first direct-to-disc recordings. Yasohachi Itoh was the manufacturing coordinator. Months later, he was in a position to give me a replica of that CD. I believe they made just a few of them on the time. The sampling charge wasn’t 44.1, which is the usual for CDs. So I had this CD, and I had no machine that might truly play it.

Jerry Shulman: The Saturday Night time Fever [soundtrack] was such a monster hit that tens of millions and tens of millions of data had been despatched out. And in ’79, the unsold data had been beginning to come again. That’s when main layoffs had been happening.

Jan Timmer: I used to be transferred from Philips South Africa to run PolyGram [the major label owned by Philips], and it was an organization in serious trouble. The entire report {industry} was in dire straits at the moment. Once I noticed this CD, I noticed this because the savior: “That is going to assist the {industry} to make a comeback.”

The Label Pushback

Timmer: I bear in mind the convention in Athens [in 1981]. We had one participant and a few discs, and I got here stuffed with enthusiasm to inform my newly acquired colleagues that this was the longer term. [Laughs.] The reception couldn’t have been extra hostile.

Schulhof: The music {industry} mentioned, “It’s good, however so what?”

Timmer: Walter Yetnikoff [then head of CBS] was probably the most vocal opponent. It was most peculiar, as a result of within the room was additionally Norio Ohga, the vice chairman of Sony, who had a three way partnership with CBS in Japan. And he knew how a lot Walter Yetnikoff was opposed. So Ohga most popular to remain behind the room and let me take the flak.

Marc Finer, former Sony Corp. product communications director: I used to be introduced into a gathering with a handful of different folks, and proven, by Michael Schulhof, a prototype of this very tiny optical disc. He introduced we had been going to be a part of the group to introduce it within the U.S.

Alan Perper, former WEA new product advertising and marketing director: Stan Cornyn was a Warner Bros. government in control of new expertise. He mentioned, “Along with every thing else you’re doing, I would like you to be concerned within the launch of this factor.”

John Briesch, former president of Sony Electronics’ client merchandise group: We needed to discuss to the executives, from Walter Yetnikoff at CBS to Clive Davis, for nearly two years. We got here in and mentioned, “OK, we now have this new thought. As a substitute of those vinyl data that you simply make actually low-cost, it’s a must to make these CDs and so they should be in a dust-free surroundings with folks in Hazmat fits. And, by the way in which, you’re going to should cost extra for it, and we will’t inform you how many individuals are going to have a machine to play your disc on for just a few years.” The report corporations had been, just about, “No manner, child.”

The Altering of the Bins

Shulman: Packaging was an enormous situation. It was an costly merchandise, and retailers didn’t need it to be stolen. That they had 12 x 12 fixtures to carry LPs. That’s what gave me the notion to have the CD package deal in a 6 x 12 format [an oblong cardboard box later known as the longbox], so they may put two packages aspect by aspect in an LP bin.

Briesch: We needed to persuade the retailers to vary their shows. 

Bob Sherwood, former senior vp of promoting, CBS Information: We had been coping with the crossover from 8-track to cassette, and, after all, the endearing and great LP. To have this new factor come alongside — we had retailers who didn’t need to cope with it as a result of it might require new shelf area.

Schulhof: Individuals like [record chain] Sam Goody had questions: “How might you presumably merchandise one thing in a plastic container 5.25 inches on a aspect, with no album graphics?”

The CD Group

Finer: John [Briesch] was speaking to his colleagues at PolyGram, together with Emiel Petrone [who died in 2004]. They established the Compact Disc Group. It was the primary time ever, within the fashionable period, the place you had so many [record] corporations working collectively for a standard objective.

Shulman: There was large pushback. The manufacturing folks didn’t need to change from the LP. The salespeople mentioned, “Are you loopy? We’re promoting $10 LPs of Michael Jackson. What makes you suppose individuals are going to need to spend $25?” I mentioned, “Look, this is sort of a hardcover e-book in comparison with a softcover e-book. This can be a manner for us to promote one other copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Finer: It was at one of many places of work of Warner Elektra Atlantic in New York once we first demonstrated this. I used to be ready for questions on “How does digital sound when it’s performed again?” and “How dependable is the recording?” And the presentation commenced with opening the drawer, enjoying the disc within the participant, and the drawer would shut. And out of silence, music stuffed the room. And that’s what blew their minds.

Timmer: We owned three labels: Philips Classics, Deutsche Grammophon and Decca. We owned the biggest classical catalog on this planet. I used to be very fortunate in that the good maestro Herbert von Karajan agreed with me and he turned an enormous promoter. And that’s how the CD ball began rolling.

Briesch: The founders of [indie label] Telarc had been additionally classical recording engineers. We began off with 16 discs — that’s all we had, from Philips, CBS and Telarc.

The Artists

Schulhof: I made the advice that we cease making an attempt to persuade the record-company executives and go straight to the artists. Stevie Marvel was one of many very first. He beloved the idea of digital audio. Adopted it very quick.

Hancock: We might report plenty of issues on this little disc. And the constancy was cleaner and clearer. There have been plenty of constructive issues to it. I favored the way in which it sounded. I might hear extra elements of the music. What I used to be listening to — that additional bit, pun supposed — overshadowed the failings of it.

Briesch: We wound up speaking to [producer] Phil Ramone. He was into expertise and digital audio. He began to go round to his counterparts and persuade them that they need to be working with their artists to advertise the institution of compact disc and digital audio. Phil was working with Billy Joel, and he bought Billy to inform CBS Information he was OK to have 52nd Road as the primary CD. We launched it in Japan.

Sherwood: I’m going to be one of many few individuals who will overtly acknowledge to you that I didn’t get it. I used to throw Jerry Shulman out of my workplace, as a result of he was driving me loopy. However I went to this classical retailer, there was a rack of CDs and I watched these folks going for every thing from Johnny Cash to Tchaikovsky if it was within the CD format. And I assumed, “Uh-oh, we’re blowing one thing right here.”

Timmer: Emiel Petrone and I went to the Tower Information on Sundown Boulevard in Los Angeles. We took newspapers so folks weren’t suspicious, and we listened to dialog with the primary adopters of the compact disc. They took certainly one of every. I mentioned to Emiel, “We’re going to make it.”

The Yetnikoff Transformation

Briesch: [Walter] was a really powerful government who screamed and yelled more often than not and was demanding that we’d incentivize him, in addition to CBS, to get him to comply with the format. You’ll be able to’t use the phrases in your article, what he used to inform us. 

Schulhof: What finally modified his thoughts, the artists informed him, “That is actually nice, Walter, you possibly can’t miss out on this.” 

Briesch: We began to get his expertise to request it. Barbra Streisand begins to speak about it, the jazz artists begin to speak about it. They are saying, “Gee, I sound rather a lot higher than I do on vinyl.”

Schulhof: Walter was extraordinarily good. As a substitute of $12.99, which was the record value for an LP, he made it $15.99 for a compact disc. He mentioned, “I’m going to inform the artists that is new expertise. We’re taking a danger. We don’t know the way that is going to end up.” What Walter didn’t inform folks was he made positive artists all signed amendments to their contracts to permit the issuance on compact disc — however he additionally made positive the royalty funds to the artists remained the identical that they had been on an LP. It meant the royalty charge was decrease. The artists didn’t complain: “I’m getting the identical cash.” It was solely years later, when the gross sales for the CDs began to turn out to be vital, and the artists started to understand their royalty charge had dropped, that they complained. And it was mounted.

Sherwood: When Walter bought behind it, we bought immediately behind it. He bought actually scorching for the CD, and phrase bought down quick.

The Manufacturing facility

Schulhof: We wanted to construct a manufacturing facility within the U.S. Walter didn’t like factories. They weren’t what he gravitated to. Even earlier than the acquisition of CBS Information, Sony bought, from CBS, their compact cassette manufacturing facility in Terre Haute, Indiana. [Earlier this year, the factory, Sony DADC, laid off 100 workers and moved many operations to Austria.]

Briesch: It was agreed we’d manufacture the discs not just for CBS, however for anyone — we might do it for Warner, Telarc. Then my project modified, to getting orders for the CD manufacturing facility to have the ability to license a few of the smaller labels, then get the larger labels to know learn how to get their materials over there.

Schulhof: The Billy Joel disc was truly shipped in from Japan as a result of we couldn’t make them within the U.S. We didn’t have a manufacturing facility right here. We mounted that. The very first disc made in the usA. was, the truth is, Born in the usA., by Bruce Springsteen.

Tony Van Veen, CEO of Disc Makers: We brokered with Sony for years, till we had been doing 20 million discs a yr by the point we lastly put in our personal manufacturing facility. That was in 2000.

The Product Advertising

Terry Currier, proprietor of Music Millennium, report retailer in Portland, Oregon: I bear in mind ordering the primary field of CDs, which got here from Sony. You bought a pre-pack, and with a view to get the new report inside, which was Michael Jackson, you bought all types of different titles, together with classical titles.

Finer: We positioned CD gamers in High 45 [radio] markets, on each AOR and classical stations, and supplied new titles for a yr or extra. All they needed to do was inform their listeners, “You’re listening to this recording on compact disc.” We put collectively occasions at golf equipment across the nation: “A Date With Digital.” We promoted largely pop and rock to get folks.

Briesch: Bob Pittman was at MTV again within the early ’80s. We mentioned, “You guys want one thing actually high-tech to make your Moonman thing work.” We mentioned, “Compact disc is the high-tech resolution to music,” and Pittman, a really good man, agreed.

Finer: We did a promotion at spring break, this unbelievable Compact Disc Hunt. You’re not simply the extracurricular actions that go on at a spot like Daytona Seaside, however folks wide-eyed at one thing they’d by no means seen or heard earlier than, this very shiny, tiny optical disc.

Perper: That nearly bought us thrown in jail. We had been hiding discs at completely different locations across the seashore. We gave the youngsters a clue, the primary three phrases of a track. We turned these 1000’s of children unfastened to discover a disc with a emblem, and in the event that they discovered the disc, we gave them a free set of CDs. The following individuals who got here into the tent had been the police, who informed us, if we proceed to do that promotion, they’d ship us to jail. The children had been flipping over automobiles, tearing down folks’s tents.

The Growth

Van Veen: The introduction was 1982 — that was the primary launch. However it took numerous years for main artists to start out having sufficient catalog, for shoppers to start out shopping for CD gamers. They began out actually costly, after which dropped to $500, $300.

Schulhof: From the introduction of the CD in ’82, till CDs represented 20% of the enterprise, it took virtually a decade. Then it began to speed up wildly.

Hancock: They offered like wildfire and so they bought higher and higher.

Finer: Round 1987, when CDs surpassed the LP in quantity and income — from that time, there was no trying again. For the subsequent eight to 10 years, it was gross sales will increase yearly. It drove a requirement that no person anticipated. CD created the catalog enterprise.

Van Veen: Our firm revenues rocketed upwards together with CD income.

The Aftermath

Terry Shea, former editor, Audio Instances: At first, it was a revelation. All people thought this was probably the most wonderful factor to ever occur to recorded music. Then it matured and have become the norm, now not wowing folks: “That is the way in which we hearken to music.” When streaming got here alongside, and within the early years of Napster, it went from a revelation to boring complacency. 

Briesch: I took over advertising and marketing for all Sony consumer-electronic merchandise in 1989. We had DVD, and it was the identical factor over again. I bought my group to type the DVD Group. Afterward, we did the identical factor with HD.

Van Veen: The function of CD has gone from major provider medium of content material [to] extra of a memento. It turns into a token of, “Hey, I used to be there, I used to be at this live performance, the artist autographed this for me.”

Currier: CDs are making a comeback. Youngsters are getting used automobiles which have CD gamers in them: “I ought to get just a few issues to play within the automobile.” Lots of younger children suppose CDs are the cool factor, like youthful folks within the late 2000s and this final decade thought vinyl was fairly cool. There’s such a supply-chain drawback with vinyl. Some issues run out, and also you don’t see them for eight or 10 months. That’s turning some bodily patrons who had been shopping for vinyl right into a two-format purchaser: “Do I wait, or do I purchase the CD?”

Van Veen: The golden-ears analog fringe will most likely cringe once I say this, nevertheless it’s fairly well-known that on CD, the dynamic vary – the [difference] between the quietest and the loudest a part of the recording – is a lot better than what vinyl can deal with. When confronted with a selection, I’ll fortunately purchase the CD.

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