Thursday, February 11, 2016

A History and background of Hylands, Spencer, and Yeager(1899-1900)

"Yours fraternally," indeed, that sums up much of the relationship between all of the members of the above publishing firm. There were many more than three people involved in this firm, in fact, there were more than ten prominent members of the cause. They were all part of the clan that Hylands wanted to begin with this firm, some were recording artists, but others weren't. It was a real mix of people who were in all aspects of the music business. 


This firm's history really stems from the experiences he had while a music director. Hylands saw into the future of the recording business, by finding that recording artists could soon become attached to the publishers by recording songs before they were published for all to have copies. This was something that was very rare in the 1890's, but according to some, it did happen occasionally before the turn of the 20th century. Hylands, being a "hot member"(1890's slang!) of the vaudeville business and Rag-Time community, he must have seen some of these sly deals take place, though he must not have been intended to. Since he was the music director at one of the hottest places for vaudeville and Rag-Time in the 1890's(Pastor's theater), he must have seen all sorts of secret deals made by publishers and performers. Being his observant and brilliant self, seeing all of this happen around him got him ideas. 

Once Columbia took him in, he was no longer a stage director, in fact, he was thrown down quite a few steps from being a music director. Being a studio pianist was almost like being a factory worker(though he got paid far better than a factory worker). What I'm saying really is that he was no longer someone who bossed people around, as a studio pianist, he was the one being kicked around, whether he liked it or not(which he certainly didn't!). His first firm of late-1898 was a "vanity firm"( a sheet music collector slang word meaning a firm that was started up by an obscure composer only for the purpose of publishing their own music). Hylands' first attempt at publishing music is the very epitome of the "Vanity firm" slang term. It's the one that we can see here:
(detail of the bottom of his "Darkey Volunteer")
This firm only lasted until he felt that enough copies of "The Darkey Volunteer" were sold to keep him satisfied. That must not have been very many copies, as it wasn't really that popular. Yes, there were quite a few different recordings of the song, but only because he demanded that it be recorded after he compiled the piece in mid-1898. That firm fell by early 1899, which left him with lots of money to spend. From this contentment, he decided to take everything and move closer to Columbia's headquarters, along with Marie(his wife) and his father Charles. They lived in a very nice flat, that was only a block away from Columbia, perfect for what they all needed. In February of 1899, he began his second attempt at publishing, this time with the aid of Steve Porter:
and Roger Harding:
They were certainly willing to put in their money to help out Hylands, who was constantly gambling(notice the italics...) with their profits, and his. This firm remained successful for only about a month or so, with all of the profits funneling to Hylands, which did include the money of Porter and Harding going to Fred. It failed quick, but they didn't lose their trust in him just yet. 

After the "Knickerbockers" firm failed, Porter was frustrated with Fred, but after seeing this go by him, Len Spencer and his booking agent Harry Yeager took an interest in Fred's endurance and potential. At the beginning of March(1899), Spencer came up to him after a recording day and explained he whole idea and process of wanting to publish with him. Hylands was probably a little foggy with the idea at first, but after thinking about it for a little while(obviously not thinking it entirely through...) he at last shook Spencer's hand the week after the idea was first spoken of. Then Hylands had control of much of what the singers recorded, which must have brought him back to the days of when he was a music director. He at last had some power over the recording artists, which is something he probably always wanted while working under Victor Emerson at Columbia. One of the things that was unique about Hylands' firm with Len Spencer was that he wanted any performers or recording artists to come and stay at his firm(which was his house) for as long as they needed to, in fact, I bet that he took home some of the drunk recording stars after the session days, like Len Spencer, or George Gaskin, or even Burt Green(who wasn't a recording artist obviously, but probably came to Columbia sometimes while working with Fred). As he advertised openly:

"Come to my house! I've got drinks, food, a piano, and plenty of dough! Though the only catch is that you'll only see me later in the evenings! Ah'll be good to ya, Ah promise!"

That's pretty much what he was saying in this advertisement. He said that he'd be there in the day and evenings, but that was very rare for him, as he was working in the studio from 8 in the morning to about 8 at night. And you know that he was the one who wrote out this ad, I can tell. He wanted his house to be a boardinghouse/ social parlor/ publishing office, and he did get all of that while running this firm. He must have run this firm like he was a king, and everyone else were his serfs, becoming the sort of manager that Victor Emerson was to him(hmm...). He was more "fun" than Emerson though, as it's certain that he sometimes would have invited a whole bunch of people over at a time when sales were going good, and have a feast of drinks, and whatever the heck someone like him would have liked. The pieces they published were popular among the exhibitioners and recording stars, and since the songs were being recorded, the record-buyers wanted the sheet music. His biggest success was "You Don't Stop the World from Goin' Round", which was originally written for Len Spencer by Fred Hylands and Will J. Hardman, but it became a much bigger success than he could have thought. Of course, Hylands knew that it was going to be a big hit, not as big as it turned out to be though. According to The Phonoscope, that tune was already in its third edition by April of 1899, which is really surprising by how fast it was spreading. Hm! Hylands must have been really convincing and charming to get something spread that fast! 
Here's Spencer and Hylands' Berliner of it from April of 1899:
It was a"Famous Negro Success" as according to the announcement, which makes sense, since there was so much high praise for it in The Phonoscope. More than half of the music published by Hylands Spencer and Yeager was music that Hylands either wrote or co-wrote, which also shows the half "Vanity-firm" that this whole venture was. Hylands sent out many associates on his behalf to get copies sold of their music, and to find more people in his circles to write music and have him publish it(with his name on it). He did give advance copies of music to a selected few people, Roger Harding being one, and Len Spencer being another, which stems from what he saw as a music director. 

Hylands' slogan was "Here Hot Hits Happen", which he most likely wrote in his own hand at the top of their very stylish and intricate logo(in that slightly lefty-looking handwriting of his, observe how the treble clef is drawn). Hylands kept his profits up for a great many months, with many famous performers coming to chat with him and maybe share a drink or two. Some of those performers include Barney Fagan, Byron Harlan, May Irwin, and probably even Lillian Russell:
Fred probably hosted her for a lavish dinner one evening, and they kept up with each other's appetites for sure!(She was famous for that among other things!). It was all good for Fred, with money like he'd never seen before, and he was happier than he ever could be, even if Columbia was still kicking him around. By 1900, he was still getting things published, more on his end of the music though. Most of the publishing he did in 1900 was his music, though he did publish a single piece by J. Fred Helf( a very popular ballad composer) again early that year. He must have seen his finish by then, with the publishing business becoming too incredibly competitive and "cut-throat", it was evident that his promises would soon leave him broke and depressed. 

By September of 1900, he was the closest to broke he had ever been, even though he was working at Columbia frequently still, the firm was starting to be take over by the larger firms that were buying out all the small ones. By the end of October, Hylands was taken by another big firm, and he had to sell all his stock to them, and give them most of his profits that were left. At this, Hylands had to tell everyone who was involved that it was over completely, and that none of the profits survived the buying out. He became depressed from this, and was short on cash until he got paid by Columbia, as it was his only source of income at this time. Marie had to go back to work by this time, as she needed to provide for them as well(she had been out of work since about April of that year), which meant that she was out late as well. This firm seemed like a terrible thing to Fred after it all passed by, but it really was a great thing while it lasted! It was the first real attempt to unite recording artists, composers and publishers into a single business, with open engagements and kind hospitality. It's a piece of music history that should at least be mentioned in books about the 1890's, or about history of the music business, because it was a powerhouse of music exchange that only lasted a year and a half, but a whole lot made that year very long for everyone involved in the firm. 


I hope you enjoyed this! 

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