In 1981 Tom Petty had a problem with MCA, the distributor for Backstreet Records. They wanted to raise the list price of his soon-to-be-released album Hard Promises from the industry standard $8.98 to the "superstar price" of $9.98. He was having none of it and withheld the master tapes of the album until MCA relented.
|October 1912 Edison Phonograph Monthly trade journal|
This was a big story that made all of the music rags at the time - I wonder if it was big enough to have caught the attention of 93-year-old Anna Case Mackay, the retired opera and concert soprano and renowned recording artist.
|February 1915 Edison Phonograph Monthly trade journal|
|November 1917 Edison Ad|
Here is how the house publication, Edison Phonograph Monthly, described the signing:
"The cost to secure the exclusive services of this eminent artist, precludes the possibility of selling the records at $1.50. It has been decided, therefore, to list all solo selections by her in the $2.00 class. This applies to the two selections now in the disc catalog 80119 and 80120, which have been renumbered 82077 and 82078 respectively."Anna Case was truly the Tom Petty of her day - the difference being that she didn't fight the price increase, but was probably honored to be elevated. And elevated it was. Just think about it. In 1914 a music lover had to pay $2.00 to own just one song - twice as much as MCA wanted to charge for the ten-track Hard Promises. Not only that, but $2.00 in 1914 was the equivalent of $18 in 1981 and $49 today! If record prices had kept up with inflation, we'd be paying $500 to download an album on iTunes.
|1918 full-page ad|
Edison didn't keep sales records for his Diamond Discs, so it's not easy to calculate how well the 100 tracks Anna Case recorded for the format sold between 1913 and 1926. But given the massive amount of promotion she received with Edison - with custom window displays for record stores, numerous cover photos on Edison publications, and prominent full-page ads, like the ones above, in popular magazines - we can assume she was one of his top sellers.
|December 29, 1928, Music Trade Review|
She cut her final two songs for Edison in June 1926 - the same month that her contract expired. She signed with Warner Brothers to make short subject sound movies using the new Vitaphone process - the first successful attempt at "talkies" - but only made two (La Fiesta, and Swanee River).
|September 1929 Columbia Records Ad|
At the end of 1928, Anna Case signed with Columbia Records. She released eight 10-inch and two 12-inch double-sided 78s through the end of 1930, recording 20 tracks in all for the label. Unlike the status she enjoyed with Edison, she received little promotion from Columbia. Can you even find a mention of Anna Case in the ad above? With Edison, she would have been pictured prominently in an ad like this. With Columbia, you need to look closely to find the two listed records - I highlighted them for you. In the 1930 record catalog, below, she is relegated to a small photo on page 147.
|Page from the 1930 Columbia Records catalog|