A Short History of Electric & Music Industries – EMI

Despite recent ownership changes, EMI remains a major player in Australia and is probably the longest surviving recording company. EMI has a long and complicated history, but EMI’s Australian division can be traced back to 1925 with the commencement of pressing operations by the The Gramophone Company in the Sydney suburb of Erskinville. A purpose-built factory was established in 1927 at Homebush and the manufacture of EMI records remained there for some 60 years.

In 1969, EMI UK established a new subsidiary label called Harvest Records to market acts in the emerging progressive rock genre such as Pink Floyd. Although mainly used for British based acts, several Australian groups were signed to Harvest in the early 1970s, including Spectrum in March 1971. Greg Quill released his debut single on the label in 1970. Other bands that released through Harvest were, Pirana, Flying Circus, Tully, Hannagan, Lizard, Patch, Unicorn, Ariel, Triumvirant, Crossfire, Finch, Creation, Intergalactic Touring Band, and Good Rats.

During 1978 the EMI Studio in Castlereagh St was completely re-equipped and renamed Studios 301. In 1984 EMI established EDC (Entertainment Distributors Company) as a joint venture with Sony Australia with a custom designed warehouse at Eastern Creek in Sydney, and the new venture took over distribution for both companies. In 1987 EMI Australia finally moved out of its Castlereagh Street office to its present location in Cremorne, Sydney. 1992 saw EMI Australia and Warner Music forming DATA (Digital Audio Technologies Australia), a state-of-the-art compact disc manufacturing plant. This was subsequently sold to Summit Technology Australia as part of the company’s global strategy to outsource its manufacturing. The same year it began selling its first digital music files.

In 1999 EMI shut down its famous Castlereagh St studios and sold all the equipment and the “Studios 301” name to SAE, the international audio training company headed by controversial entrepreneur Tom Misner, and SAE relocated the facility to its present location in Alexandria, Sydney. In 2004 EMI sold DATA to Summit Technology.

In the early 1980s the majors started to push out independents like K-Tel, and started to release their own compilations. These were often co-releases with CBS, EMI, Festival, and WEA rotating the publishing. This effectively spelt the end to labels such as Concept, J&B and K-Tel in the pop market as the majors kept the best releases for themselves, or asked prohibitive licensing fees. This was also the era of the CD, and while it took another decade for LPs to be phased out completely, the end was nigh.


Until 1958 EMI’s main Australian label was Regal-Zonophone, but with the end of 78 RPM disks the name was dropped in favour of the Columbia, HMV, and Parlophone names. There was a complicated numbering system in place for singles until 1968 when numbers were consolidated for a single unified system beginning at 8001. However, an even more complicated system was used for 12 inch releases. In 1972 EMI discontinued the Columbia, HMV, and Parlophone monikers for their singles and EPs, and everything was released under the EMI label, but HMV continued to be used for their so-called TV specials. EMI was the only major Sydney company not involved with the Matrix number system which makes release orders even more complicated. There seems to be little logic to which label a compilation was released under – Hit Wave 1 is on HMV, while Another Hit Wave and Hit Wave Volume 3 are on Columbia. However, from 1968 the HMV brand was used exclusively for classical music releases in other countries. Many of the early 1970s issues have the TVS (Television Special) numbering system. Fortunately, almost all the 1970s onwards releases have a publication year.

Currently (2013) EMI’s catalogue is owned by two companies. Universal own the mechanical rights – the right to physically make and sell the recordings, while Sony/ATV Music Publishing owns the publishing rights.

More information on the history of EMI is on the Milesago site.