Herbert S. Berliner revolutionized the sound recording industry in Canada, making it possible for Canadian artists to produce and record albums in their own country. An innovator throughout his life, he was determined to always release the best possible quality audio recordings and worked tirelessly to develop unique methods of record pressing.
Herbert S. Berliner began his career working for his father, gramophone inventor Emile Berliner, in the family run business, the Berliner Gramophone Company. In 1909, he was appointed Vice President and General Manager of the family company and in 1916, through the company’s subsidiary His Master’s Voice, he released an Anglophone record series, HMV 216000, soon followed by a Francophone series, HMV 263000, promoting Canadian artists. In April 1921, Herbert left the Berliner Gramophone Company and, along with several of his colleagues, began working as President of Compo, a company he founded in 1918. Compo went on to become Canada’s premier independent record pressing company, rivalling the Berliner Gramophone Company.
The history of Compo is, above all, that of Herbert Samuel Berliner. He had been interested in electric recording since the beginning of the 1920s and was the first in Canada to launch records recorded with this system, even before the American industry leaders, Columbia and Victor. From 1929, he produced experimental recordings at 33 1/3 RPM.
Berliner’s fascination with radio broadcasting of recorded sound, when other record labels shunned it, resulted in his producing not only transcriptions for broadcast but also single records, made in a plastic substance instead of breakable shellac, long before the American labels did so. These 1924 recordings were electrical using microphones, far superior to the acoustic sounds used since the days of his father’s invention in 1887. Compo was also one of only two Canadian recording companies to survive the 1929 economic crash, thanks to its President’s foresight in diversifying the company business to include the making of Dictaphone cylinders and the distribution of radio broadcast transcriptions.
The list of Compo’s Canadian performers, many of whom went on to become Canadian idols, included Rex Battle, J.R. Dubois, Paul Dufault and Ruthven H. McDonald. Artists recording with Apex included Willie Eckstein, Vera Guilaroff, Léo Le Sieur, Don Messer and His Islanders and the Andy Tripaldi Orchestra, to name only a few.
Herbert Berliner was almost 70 years old when he sold Compo to Decca in 1951. He remained President of the Compo Company under the Decca label until his death in 1966.