written by
Ziga Rezar

Jugoton: Making Records in Yugoslavia

Team 6 min read

Makers of mix:analog live by the maxim "work hard, play hard". We really love working on mix:analog to excite our users with real analog gear you can stream remotely. After all this hard work we like to wind down, celebrate our achievements and learn something new together.

We went to visit an exhibition about the interesting history of the recording industry in our home country. It was interesting to learn more about the process behind vinyl, tape, and cassette production/manufacture.

We also learned about the social changes that were possible because of the easier access to recorded music and the unique position of Yugoslavia to benefit from both the USSR and the western world.

mixanalog team at Jugoton exhibition in TMS
A part of the mix:analog team with the exhibition centerpiece

Yugoslavia, our former home

The company behind mix:analog is based in Slovenia, a small central European country. Slovenia was a part of Yugoslavia, a union of Southern Slavic people formed as a kingdom in the aftermath of World War I, became a republic after World War II and existed all the way into the early 90s.

Our visit centered on a state-owned company called Jugoton that recorded, licensed, printed and distributed records all over Yugoslavia. In late 2019, the national technical museum TMS Bistra announced an exhibition about Jugoton history in collaboration with the Technical Museum Nikola Tesla and Culture of Art collective from Zagreb.

We got our chance to see the real deal, satisfy our curiosity and we absolutely didn't want to miss it! None of us are old enough to remember the heyday of this company in the 70s and 80s. Based on urban legends of the period we had some preconceptions about the exhibition. We thought Jugoton would be more or less a state propaganda machine with heavy censorship and poor working conditions.

jugoton vinyl pressing plant
Jugoton vinyl duplication factory

This is what the TMS exhibition had to say about Jugoton:

Jugoton, the first and largest record company in the former Yugoslavia, is an example of a socialist giant of popular culture from 1947 to 1991, which thrived particularly during the period of industrialisation and modernisation. In its prime, it sold millions of records, had numerous domestic composers and performers under contract, as well as foreign licencing agreements and a directorial and editorial “dream team”.

In addition to its own production facilities, exclusive contracts with musicians and a marketing department, Jugoton was the only associate member of the world renowned record labels in the region. It had a licence to release albums of the American and West-European popular music stars, thereby exerting immeasurable influence not only on the audience of the former Yugoslavia, but also the entire Eastern Bloc.
TMS - Exhibition: East of Eden

Did you see any cool gear?

Yes! Aside from a very impressive gear collection we learned a lot about the process behind creating vinyl and gained massive respect for the mastering engineers of the vinyl era. Did you know they used to need a microscope in the studio to validate the quality of the master? Proper engineers in white coats used to man the studios.

We saw some amazing Studer tape machines from Switzerland and Lyrec / Ortofon lathe cutting machines from Denmark! It was interesting to see how precise and well made these vintage beauties were and it's no surprise that they can cost upwards of 100.000$ these days!

We also saw a vinyl press that applies over 100 tons of weight at 160 degrees celsius to the vinyl material in order to create one vinyl record.

How did Jugoton make records?

After recording and mixing down the record to analog tape you are left known as the "master tape". As a result of mastering on the transfer console, the engineer transfers the master tape to a master record.

The master record is a direct cut disc of shellac lacquer and is only good for listening a few times. The quality quickly deteriorates as the grooves in the master record disintegrate because of the mechanical stylus following the grooves on the record.

Cutting this record is a time-consuming effort and the resulting disc needs to be inspected under a microscope to make sure that no dust or other particles made defects like breaks in the grooves. Something as simple as a human hair follicle could interfere with the process, so each inspection is carried out thoroughly to catch any errors.

After the master was cut and inspected, the operator covered it with a metal spray in thin layers, then added even more metal through a galvanization process. This used electricity and a special chemical bath to deposit more and more metal onto the record, preserving the groove shape but adding stiffness and resilience to the master record.

The metal part was peeled off and used to stamp out additional metal records, which in turn were used in a press to create vinyl records!

The Impact of Jugoton

The exhibition was also full of interesting stories and descriptions. Luckily, they already include an English version of the text, so we can share some of them with you here:

Contrary to our belief, the communist party let Jugoton license and import music from the west freely. Elvis Presley's first single was released in 1954 state-side but in 1960 Jugoton already released a compilation album a mere six years later.

Occurrences like this were fairly common and the nation was introduced to the sounds of rock, blues, and jazz as much as in any western country. Indeed, state-sponsored recordings included popular, alternative and rock music without an attempt to stifle the creative output of the young generation.

This was in sharp contrast with our preconceptions! It's now much easier to understand how the general music taste of the nation evolved to be so diverse and favorable to small genres and releases.

In conclusion

It was very inspiring to see how the engineers of the day solved challenges in making and reproducing music. What struck us as particularly interesting was the concentration of talent at one place - Jugoton combined experts in recording, mixing, mastering as well as more general electronics and machinery experts, all the while combined with very specialized skilled workers in duplication and quality assurance.

With this level of commitment and concentration of talent, it was possible to record one day and receive a finished record that would play on your gramophone in just a matter of days without rushing the process.

And this resonates with what we are trying to do at Distopik, the company behind mix:analog. We want to employ experts in electronics, software and music production and let the ideas proliferate between all of them. To build bridges between different aspects of the industry and make products only possible through intense collaboration of different views and specializations.

Tell me more about mix:analog

team mixanalog jugoton