RCA is the name of three different co-owned record labels. RCA Records is the pop music, rock music and country music label. RCA Victor is the blues music, world music, jazz, musicals and other musical genres which do not fit the pop music mold label. RCA Red Seal is the renowned classical music label with a reissue sub-label called RCA Gold Seal.
Defunct labels include budget labels RCA Camden, RCA Victrola and RCA Custom, famed for issuing record compilations for The Reader's Digest Association as well as pressing records for other record companies.
Currently, Legacy Recordings Sony BMG's catalog division, reissues classic albums for RCA.
In 1931, RCA Victor's British affiliate the Gramophone Company merged with the Columbia Graphophone Company to form EMI. This gave RCA head David Sarnoff a seat on the EMI board. Also in 1931, RCA Victor developed and released the first 33⅓-rpm records to the public. These had the standard groove size identical to the contemporary 78-rpm records, rather than the "microgroove" used in post-World War II 33⅓ "Long Play" records. The format was a commercial failure at the height of the Great Depression, partially because the records and playback equipment were expensive. The system was withdrawn from the market after about a year. (This was not the first attempt at a commercial long play record format, as Edison Records had marketed a microgroove vertically recorded disc with 20 minutes playing time per side the previous decade; the Edison long playing records were also a commercial failure.) In 1932, Bluebird Records was created as a sub-label of RCA Victor.
RCA sold its interest in EMI in 1935, but EMI continued to distribute RCA recordings on the HMV label.
From 1942 to 1944, RCA Victor was seriously impacted by the American Federation of Musicians recording ban. Virtually all union musicians could not make recordings during that period. One of the few exceptions was the eventual release of recorded performances by the NBC Symphony Orchestra with Arturo Toscanini. However, RCA lost the Philadelphia Orchestra during this period; when Columbia Records settled quickly with the union, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphians signed a new contract with Columbia and began making recordings in 1944.
In 1949, RCA-Victor developed and released the first 45 rpm record to the public, answering CBS/Columbia's 33⅓ rpm "LP". The 45-rpm record became the standard for pop singles with running times similar to 10-inch 78-rpm discs (less than four minutes per side). However, RCA also released some "extended play" (EP) discs with running times up to 10 minutes per side, primarily for classical recordings. (One of the first of the extended 45-rpm recordings was a disc by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra featuring Tchaikovsky's Marche Slave and Ketelbey's In a Persian Market.)
Through the 1940s and 1950s, RCA was in competition with Columbia Records. A number of recordings were made with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, usually conducted by Arturo Toscanini; sometimes RCA utilized recordings of broadcast concerts (Toscanini had been recording for the label since the days of acoustic recordings, and the label had been recording the NBC Symphony since the late 1930's). When the NBC Symphony was reorganized in the fall of 1954 as the Symphony of the Air, it continued to record for RCA, as well as other labels, usually with Leopold Stokowski. RCA also released a number of recordings with the Victor Symphony Orchestra, later renamed the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, which was usually drawn from either Philadelphia or New York musicians, as well as members of the Symphony of the Air. By the late 1950s RCA had fewer high prestige orchestras under contract than Columbia had: RCA recorded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Pops, whereas Columbia had the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
On October 6, 1953, RCA held experimental stereophonic sessions in New York's Manhattan Center with Leopold Stokowski conducting a group of New York musicians in performances of Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 and the waltz from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. There were additional stereo tests in December, again in the Manhattan Center, this time with Pierre Monteux conducting members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In February 1954, RCA made its first commercial stereophonic recordings, taping the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch, in a performance of The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. This began a practice of simultaneously taping orchestras with both stereophonic and monaural equipment. Other early stereo recordings were made by Toscanini and Guido Cantelli respectively, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner. Initially, RCA used RT-21 1/4 inch tape recorders (which ran at 30 inches per second), wired to mono mixers, with Neumann U-47 cardioid and M-49/50 omnidirectional microphones. Then they switched to an Ampex 300-3 1/2 inch machine, running at 15 inches per second (which was later increased to 30 inches per second). These recordings were initially issued in 1955 on special stereophonic reel-to-reel tapes and then, beginning in 1958, on vinyl LPs with the logo "Living Stereo." Sony BMG has continued to reissue these recordings on CD.
In September 1954, RCA introduced 'Gruve-Gard' where the center and edge of a disc are thicker than the playing area, reducing scuff marks during handling and when used on a turntable with a record changer. Most of RCA Victor Records' competitors quickly adopted the raised label and edges.
The Toscanini stereo albums, however, were never issued by RCA (they were the last two concerts he conducted with the NBC Symphony Orchestra). They were not issued until 1987 and 2007 respectively , when they appeared on compact disc on the Music and Arts label, and betrayed no sign whatsoever of the Maestro's apparent memory loss in the last concert, probably because the rehearsals had also been taped in stereo and portions of them were included in the final edit.
In 1955, RCA purchased the recording contract of Elvis Presley from Sun Records for the then astronomical sum of $35,000. Elvis would become RCA's biggest selling recording artist. His first gold record was Heartbreak Hotel, recorded in January 1956.
In 1957, RCA ended its 55 year association with EMI and signed a distribution deal with Decca Records, which caused EMI to purchase Capitol Records. Capitol then became the main distributor for EMI recordings in North and South America with RCA distributing its recordings through Decca in the United Kingdom on the RCA and RCA Victor labels with the lightning bolt logo instead of the His Master's Voice Nipper logo (now owned by HMV Group plc in the UK as EMI transferred trademark ownership in 2003) RCA set up its own British distribution in 1971.
Also in 1957, RCA opened a state of the art recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee which recorded hit after hit for RCA and other labels for 20 years and is now open for tours as RCA Studio B. Elvis Presley made most of his recordings in this studio.
In Sept. 1965, RCA & Lear Jet Corp. teamed up to release the first Stereo 8-Track Tape Music Cartridges (Stereo-8) which were first used in the 1966 line of Ford Automobiles and were popular throughout the late 1960's and 1970's.
In late 1968, RCA modernised its image with a new futuristic looking logo [The letters RCA in block modernised form], replacing the old lightning bolt logo, and the virtual retirement of both the "Victor" and Nipper trademarks. The background of the labels, which had always been black for its regular series (as opposed to its Red Seal line), switch to bright orange (later in the early 1970s, becoming tan). Possibly in response to customers' complaints, RCA Records reinstated Nipper to most of its record labels beginning in 1976 in countries where RCA had the rights to the Nipper trademark. The famous "shaded" label used on RCA's "Living Stereo" albums was revived in the 1990s for a series of CDs devoted to the historic triple-track stereophonic recordings.
In late 1969 RCA introduced a very thin, lightweight Vinyl LP known as DynaFlex (the name has nothing to do with the gyroscope). This type of pressing claimed to overcome warping and other problems in conventional thicker pressings, but it had a controversial reputation in the industry. At about the same time John Denver recorded his first RCA LP: Rhymes and Reasons.
When General Electric acquired RCA in 1986, the company sold its 50% interest in RCA/Ariola International to its partner Bertelsmann and the company was renamed BMG Music for Bertelsmann Music Group. BMG brought back the lightning bolt logo to make clear that RCA Records was no longer co-owned with the other RCA entities which GE sold or closed. The only RCA unit GE kept was the National Broadcasting Company. BMG also revived the "RCA Victor" label for musical genres outside of country, pop and rock music.
RCA Victor made several studio cast recording albums as well, included a Lerner and Loewe series with Jan Peerce, Jane Powell, and Robert Merrill, as well as a 1963 album of excerpts from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with its 1952 revival leads, Leontyne Price and William Warfield, but a different supporting cast. They also issued two earlier versions of Show Boat, one with Robert Merrill, Patrice Munsel, and Rise Stevens and the other with Howard Keel, Anne Jeffreys, and Gogi Grant.
In 2006, Sony BMG merged its Broadway music labels, including RCA Victor to the new Masterworks Broadway Records.
In the 1970s the label let much of its catalog go out of print. This pattern affected its jazz catalog most greatly, followed by its classical music catalog.
In the compact disc era a small proportion of its jazz catalog has been reissued. (For example, Jelly Roll Morton albums were reissued; but they were removed from circulation in less than ten years.) Similarly, only a fraction of its vast classical catalog has remained available on compact disc.
In the 1970s the label pressed its popular, jazz and country records with a special 'Dynaflex' technology. These records were unusually thin & flexible. However, a high proportion of these thin pressings were warped when sold as new recordings.
Canadian rockers Triumph were practically all but ignored by the label. When the band wanted out of their deal with RCA, the label refused. Then MCA Records executive Irving Azoff demonstrated his faith in the trio by co-opting their debts and buying the band out of their RCA contract and signed them for five albums.
After country singer Kenny Rogers left the label, RCA were accused of trying to ruin his career. Rogers signed to RCA in 1983 for an advance sum of $20 million (the largest deal ever in country music at that time) when Bob Summers was head of the label. Shortly after Rogers' first album for the label Summers was fired (for unrelated reasons) by RCA. Deciding it would make the label look bad for firing Summer if Rogers continued to be a major success -- his duet with Dolly Parton, "Islands in the Stream", had been one of the biggest hits of 1983 -- Rogers received very little support from the label during the next several years he was with them. Although Rogers and RCA parted ways many years ago the results of the conflict can still be seen today. RCA deleted all of Rogers' solo albums soon after he signed to Reprise in 1989 (taking the rights to those albums with him as RCA refused to keep them), with only Once Upon A Christmas (a 1984 album of seasonal duets with Parton) remaining in print.
The most recent controversy surrounded RCA Records and Kelly Clarkson. Reports said that many RCA workers including mogul Clive Davis were unhappy with her latest album "My December". Davis was even said to offer Clarkson 10 million to scrap 5 of her songs but she apparently refused. Months of controversy followed which included Clarkson's tour being scrapped and Clarkson firing her manager, Paul McAlarney.
Christina Aguilera has accused RCA of "being afraid of assertive women and labeling them as Divas". Many of her fans are also disappointed in the lack of professionalism/interest they take in her career.