The story of Central Station Records, the boutique Melbourne record store that became a record store and music empire for its founders, is told in the new book ‘Music Wars – The Sound of the Underground’.
The book, as documented by Rell Hannah, details the successes and the struggles of Central Station founders Giuseppe (Jo) Palumbo and Morgan Williams.
Morgan and Jo made a fortune from the Australian music industry but had to survive everything from court cases to plain out thuggery and vandalism to get there.
“It is a story about developing in considerable adversity,” Morgan Williams tells Noise11.com. “Giuseppe, my partner, started the shop in Flinders St, Melbourne. The majors saw Giuseppe as a competitor and enemy and pulled out all the big guns to destroy us. It was a total overreaction. They were upset that Jo’s little store was picking up artists they didn’t even know about. He knew about Prince and Madonna before Warner knew about them, before they were on the horizon here. Warners had no idea about those artists. We were selling their 12-inch singles to DJs and getting the word out. That started the annoyance”.
The Central Station empire started as a humble record store in the city of Melbourne. “It was a British model of a record label growing out of a record shop,” Morgan said. “We didn’t get any radio support for years. We did a cover of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ with an English artist named Nicki French. That was the first time radio started to support anything that looked like dance music.
Morgan and Jo credit Nick Dunshea as the one who accelerated the label. “A guy called Nick Dunshea, who now works with Gudinski, worked with us,” Morgan said. “We tried to distribute our own stuff but there were three formats – vinyl, cassette and then CD. He moved to Shock and we became a distributed label and that made a huge difference”.
The start of the label’s success started to piss off the majors. Warner Music was especially aggressive. “There was a guy called Paul Turner and one from Melbourne, Bill Duff. There was a personal element,” Morgan said. “They obviously didn’t get on with Jo at the time and he wasn’t going to be fucked around. They expected him to buckle and he didn’t”.
Morgan falls short of accusing the former head of Warner Australia of foul play. “We believe so but we can’t make that allegation without any evidence. They couldn’t win legally so they found other ways to destroy us,” he said.
Giuseppe decided to go over Turner’s head and took the fight to Warner USA. “I wrote an anonymous letter. It was revealing,” he tells Noise11.com. “It told Warner Music (USA) that this guy (Paul Turner, Australia) is going to destroy your company here. We launched this ‘Fuck Warner Music’ sign. We told people to not buy CDs now because they are going to be cheaper in two years time. Sales of Warner Music dropped. The Americans must have woken up to the fact sales were dropping and the government was about to regulate the law. I sent it to two locations. Burbank and New York”.
The fight had a personal effect on Morgan and Jo but they decided to go all out with the fight. “Everybody gave up,” Jo said. “Our friends disappeared. They had families and didn’t want to lose their businesses. The litigation was very expensive. When we went to Canberra to represent ourselves. It was $7500 bank cheque on the day before we even started. For all the others it was too much money, too much hassle, you can’t sleep at night. You spend all this time with lawyers. I decided to fight it and see what happens”.
The fight started the conversation about copyright changes in Australia, something Jo is especially proud his fight achieved. “By doing what we did we helped Australian artists. If you control copyright in your territory you don’t have to worry about it anymore. There was now an excuse for the multinationals to spend money on local artists without diverting attention from what they were actually doing”.
The story of Central Station would be impossible to replicate if someone wanted to start the same sort of business today. “I think distribution of the product has changed,” Jo said. “CD may have another year then they will be no more. Within a few years CDs will disappear. Paying online to Spotify or Amazon or iTunes, we are all getting to pay 10 bucks and get the entire library. The young generation wants everything on mobiles”.
Jo also predicts major changes for the major labels if they are to survive in places like Australia. “The multinationals have to reduce the number of people they employ,” he says. “They can’t keep on doing what they are doing now. It will be harder for the big ones. The smaller companies can survive with fewer artists going to the top”.
He says the majors need to spend more of local talent or they won’t have a reason to operate in Australia. “It all depends if they wish to support local talent,” he says. “Now you can download everything from New York. You don’t need an Australian operation unless they are keen on local talent. They are already downsizing. There are always consolidations happening”.
TITLE: MUSIC WARS (THE SOUND OF THE UNDERGROUND)
AUTHOR: RELL HANNAH
RELEASE DATE: 23 JUNE 2017
PURCHASE BOOK: http://bit.ly/2pJfuxq