History of EMI

The Electric and Musical Industries, or EMI, was founded in 1931 as a merger of the Columbia Graphophone Company and the Gramophone Company after record sales had plummeted drastically during the Great Depression in the early 1930s. This website is dedicated to documenting the History of EMI and the donation of the impressive EMI Music Archive, containing over 60 years of music history, to the University of Calgary.

Both Columbia and the Gramophone Company had R&D departments, and after EMI was formed, Alan Blumlein, an influential Columbia scientist who had gone to the new company, developed the first stereo recording and playing system in the world.

However, due to commercial reasons that were influenced by the negative economic climate, stereo recordings would not be widely available for the next few decades. Under the inspiring guidance of genius Blumlein, the EMI labs not only developed stereo technology, but they had also given birth to the world’s first electrical television, which allowed the UK to be the world’s first country to launch public television services. EMI also developed the new technology of radar, which helped the Allied forces greatly at the time of World War II.

By the end of WW II, more new technologies became available to the music recording industry, and revolutionary new technology, magnetic tape recording, became introduced to music recording studios for the first time in history. This was also the period that more and more American and Canadian soldiers that had returned from the war needed to complete some sort of high school education and it was established as a high school equivalency program. But now, back to the interesting EMI history:

At the beginning of the period 1980-1990, the entire recording industry started to suffer hugely from a serious decline in sales. This period marked the end of the phenomenon of ‘Disco’ which allowed many new music styles to emerge, and one of the new directions was ‘Heavy Metal’. Among the first successful heavy metal bands to hit the charts was London-based Iron Maiden, under EMI contract. A few decades later, Iron Maiden are still successful EMI recording artists, and they still are touring relentlessly. The band is a true icon of a new generation that’s rocking all over the world.

Other music genres that emerged during this period were sample-based and electronic music, for example, house, techno, and hip-hop. An important exponent of electronic music is the band Kraftwerk, who started all ready to experiment with electronic music and computers in the preceding decade. Other successful EMI artists in the early 1980s included Duran Duran and Kate Bush.

The period late 80s – early 90s marked for EMI, just like most of the industry, a time of huge changes. In 1983, the company released the first recordings in CD format, and the changes were so impressive that new silver-shiny CD disc was responsible for most album sales by the end of the decade. It was also in this period that EMI started to embark on a number of business deals that were to transform the company forever.

EMI Music Canada

EMI Music Canada (EMI-MC) was established in 1949 as a recording company and included also Capitol Records Canada (CRC). The music recording company featured a wide range of Canadian artists and was also the distributor in Canada of its international music division.  EM Music Canada had its headquarters in Toronto and branch offices in Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver.

Capitol Records Canada, under the direction of EMI Music Canada, was the first North American record label to release Pink Floyd and The Beatles on the North American continent. In 1963, the Beatles singles ‘Please Please Me’,  ‘Love Me Do’, and ‘From Me to You’ came out in Canada several months before ‘She Loves You’ was released in the United States as the Beatles’ first release there.

EMI Music Canada was distributing more than fifty independent Canadian record labels, and the company was the first to get ‘First Nations Music Wawataqy Recordings’ under contract as well as the ‘First Nations label’, and EMI Canada was also the first company to distribute the hip‐hop label ‘Beat Factory’.

EMI Music Canada Archive

The highly interesting and relevant archive of EMI Canada was recently donated by Universal Music Canada (UMC) to the University of Calgary’s Libraries and Cultural Resources. The University has also teamed up with Canada’s National Music Centre (NMC), that was playing a crucial role in transferring the EMI Canada archive to Calgary by bringing Universal Music Canada in contact with the University of Calgary.

The university announced on March 31, 2016, that Universal had donated the EMI Canada Music Archive to its Libraries & Cultural Resources. The collection offers music lovers, students, and researchers from across the globe access to more than five decades of contemporary music that spans a wide range of styles.

The EMI Canada Archive is a unique collection documenting 63 years of Canada’s music industry in the period 1949-2012. The collection includes more than 5 thousand boxes that contain over 20,000 audio recordings, almost 19,000 video recordings, and over 2 million biographies, photographs, and other documents. Universal Canada acquired the Canadian EMI archive when EMI Music Canada was bought by Universal Music Group in 2012.