The Early Studio Years

Ben Selvin directing in the studio_jpgIn Muzak’s early years, 1934 thru 38, the recording studios were located throughout New York City.  Our earliest sessions were at two of the cities top studios, Electrical Research Products Inc (ERPI) in the Bronx and World Broadcasting’s Sound Studios in Manhattan.  We also recorded remotely from the Metropolitan Opera House, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu and several locations in DC.  Starting in June of 1936 Muzak began to scheduled sessions at RCA Victor Studios, 153 East 24th Street.  But it wasn’t until July of 1938 that Muzak moved into a permanent home: AMP studios, 151 West 46th Street, NYC, where we recorded until the mid-50s.

All of these studios could house up to 50 musicians in one session.  Back in those days the orchestras and musicians were well rehearsed and ready to record each song in one take.  It was simply the norm.  Several microphones would be positioned in specific locations throughout the studio, as the conductor would work closely with our producer, Ben Selvin, to get the desired sound.  Then away they’d go.   A three hour session would produce up to 12 songs.  This is incredible output by today’s standards.  These musicians were top-notch and the arrangements were amazing.

Each session was recorded onto a series of lathes, or master recording turntables. A blank 12”, 16” or 19” disc (either vinyl or metal with a lacquer finish) would be placed on each of four lathes. All lathes would be activated during each recording. This redundancy solved many early day challenges. First of all, recording onto disc had a high failure rate, so if one disc failed, hopefully the next disc was OK, and so on. Secondly, you could only get 10 to 20 plays from any master disc. These masters were fairly fragile, so they were used for duplication only.  This reduced the number of plays per disc and saved their lives as much as possible. And finally, having several masters insured that the management and storage of these masters (various locations) were secured and protected.

Having up to four original masters for many of our early recording session has been a saving grace throughout our archive discovery process.  And what a discovery it has been.
Until next time.

Contributed by Bruce McKagan
For more Muzak archive information go to

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