But times were different when Hughes established his recording empire on capital of $2000, working out of offices in suburban Christchurch. And if there was a market, he was more than willing to oblige. He famously told his salesmen that they were not in the music business; they were in the plastics business.
In an advertisement in United States music bible Billboard in the late 1970s, eliciting companies to have Music World market their product in New Zealand, the man whose motto was “Music you can afford to enjoy” referred to himself as Hoghton “The Hustler” Hughes: “He’ll hustle for you 25 hours a day.”
His business card read “Hoghton Hughes – Mass Market Marvel”. He was the biggest independent advertiser on New Zealand television during the 1970s and 1980s with an annual spend of around $600,000 to $700,000.
Hughes launched his first label, Sailor-Boy, in 1967 with a single from teenage country singer Brendan Dugan. He then recorded folk singer Christine Smith and country singers Garner Wayne, Max McCauley and Danny McGirr, releasing them on Master, before coming up with the Music World moniker after queuing at the Sydenham post office.
Music World was the first New Zealand record company to place its products in non-traditional outlets, marketing through supermarkets, dairies, newsagents and service stations and never for more than $10.
As well as championing New Zealand country music with LPs from Suzanne Prentice, Dusty Spittle, Noel Parlane, Jeff Rea and the like, Music World offered up a lot of everything: Māori waiata, sound-alike hits, rugby songs, Christian music, rock and roll, and instrumental music by such acts as the New Zealand Army Band, steel guitarist Les Thomas and saxophonist Stu Buchanan.
Hughes would pay the artist upfront, between $500 and $3000, and foot the production costs. Often producing the sessions, he did it all, from finalising the track listing, to writing the copy for the cover, to mock-ups for his graphic artist.
Sound-alike compilations – sourced from Nashville, London and Germany, with titles such as 40 Pop Country Hits – were offered alongside Gray Bartlett’s Hot Guitars, Tom Sharplin’s Rock Around The Clock and records by Ivy’s Old Time Dance Band. Hughes even released two albums of his own trumpet instrumentals in 2008.
Double Sexy – 30 Naughty Favourites and similar offerings, with sleeves featuring topless women, were sometimes sold from underneath counters in the nation’s record outlets, adding to their infamy. But they sold, so Hughes manufactured them.
Music World’s annual turnover peaked at $15 million in 1992.
In 1979, Music World branched into Australia and Hoghton Hughes followed in 1985, leaving his Hawdon Street, Sydenham base, first for Brisbane and later northern New South Wales. Music World’s annual turnover peaked at $15 million in 1992.
Twice, Music World LPs took out the Golden Guitar for top selling album at the Australasian Country Music Awards in Tamworth. The albums, One Day At A Time by Suzanne Prentice in 1983 and Yodelling Man by Roger Tibbs in 1986, were both produced by Hughes.
The catalogue of 3000 albums is now part of Hughes’s music licensing operation The Music Factory, which he runs from Lennox Head, licensing to Asian companies and granting sync rights to movie producers.
Despite the sheer number of albums sold and the many local artists who benefited from having product released on the label, Hughes and Music World were never afforded the accolades they perhaps should have been.
Hughes believes it was because he was not among “the finger snappers” at the glamour end of the New Zealand record business, initially in Wellington and then in Auckland. That, and the fact Music World was a budget label.
More often than not their albums were in the $2.99 and $4.99 price range and they were offered to retailers 100% sale or return. Some artists moved huge numbers, some did not. Danny McGirr’s Kiwi Singalong and Suzanne Prentice’s gospel LP One Day At A Time were massive, Lynne and Celine Toner’s solo records sold little due to their not venturing far from their Hawke’s Bay base.
Born in Christchurch in 1943, Hoghton Hughes took up cornet as an eight-year-old with the Crighton Cobbers Band. At 10 he joined the 3rd Armoured Regiment Band, playing for Her Majesty The Queen at the Civic Reception in Christchurch during the royal tour of 1953. He won numerous medals for cornet and in 1956 came second in the New Zealand Junior Solo Contest in Wellington. While at Christchurch West High School he was selected as principal cornet for a Christchurch Secondary Schools’ representative brass band.
Hughes was “the ultimate Elvis Presley freak” by the time he left school in 1959.
But he was “the ultimate Elvis Presley freak” by the time he left school in 1959 to run the record department at Cotter’s. It was there he learnt the importance of stocking what people wanted, which at the time amounted to Peter Sellers comedy LPs and instrumental collections by English pianist Russ Conway.
Next he worked as the South Island rep for record distributor Green & Hall, selling Philips and budget labels like Spin-O-Rama. When he was 21 he asked for a raise, but his boss told him he was an embarrassment because he was outselling the two North Island reps combined. Why that wasn’t something to celebrate was beyond Hughes and he deduced from the motivational books he was reading that the only way to get ahead was to be his own boss.
On a trip to Australia in 1966 he secured the New Zealand rights to Melbourne labels W&G and Spotlight and when he returned to Christchurch he set up the Sailor-Boy label. The first single was the local issue of Judith Durham’s W&G 45 ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’, but the second was a Christchurch teenager soon to be a household name.
Hughes heard 15-year-old Brendan Dugan singing at Caroline Bay in Timaru in 1967 and offered to record him. Believing Dugan had the potential to follow in his hero John Hore’s [John Grenell] footsteps, Hughes produced Dugan’s debut single ‘Flowers For Mama’ b/w ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’.
The following year, Hughes folded Sailor-Boy, but he took Dugan with him when he started his next label Master; named for his mate and Invercargill promoter Frank Stapp’s propensity for calling everybody “master”.
There were several more Brendan Dugan singles and the album Country’s Greatest on Master before Dugan won the national 1968 New Faces title on NZBC television show Studio One and was snapped up by HMV. Hughes repackaged four tracks from Country’s Greatest into the EP Brendan On Studio One.
He kept his eyes and ears open for New Zealand talent to add to the Master roster. He heard Danny McGirr singing live on 3ZB, a Dunedin buyer recommended Christine Smith, while pop singer Pat Kearns was working at Begg’s when Hughes changed his name to Mark Antony and released four singles through 1969 and 1970.
It was while standing in a queue at the Sydenham post office in 1970 that Hughes had an epiphany. He was behind a woman who was sending a letter to the sensationalist English paper News Of The World. “What a great title,” he thought. He played around with the wording and Music World was born.
Master existed for another four years until being absorbed into the new label. One of Hughes’ most enduring discoveries was Suzanne Prentice, whose Country Girl was released on Master in 1973 when she was just 14. Country Style Promotions partner Stewart Abernethy, who had earlier encouraged Hughes to sign Max McCauley, gave him the tip on Prentice.
Within Music World, Hughes set up other subsidiary labels to cater for different genres.
Within Music World, Hughes set up other subsidiary labels to cater for different genres. Among them, he released Christian music on Trinity, children’s product on Kiddidisc, television-advertised product on Golden Editions, and pop music on Mirage. The idea with the latter was that the records had a better chance at radio without the stigma of being on the budget Music World.
Sometimes his artists would ask him to manage their careers, but Hughes was too busy putting out records. He believed Danny McGirr could have become a New Zealand Johnny Cash but the singer didn’t have the ambition, and he wished he’d recorded more of elderly Ashburton pianist Chloe Gordon, whose potential to move product was huge.
Twelve Australian sales reps soon joined Music World’s four New Zealand reps when Music World expanded into Australia in 1979. PolyGram’s Graham Broughton managed the Australian business until Hughes relocated there in 1985. Before crossing the Tasman he moved Music World to Auckland and installed Ross Donohue to look after the New Zealand operation.
Hoghton Hughes and his wife Vanessa first settled in Brisbane before moving to Lennox Head, in the Northern Rivers region. Today, he is still “the ultimate Elvis Presley freak, the world’s oldest teenager”. His Music World LPs of the 1970s and 1980s are staples in provincial New Zealand second-hand shops and all over online auction sites for upwards of $30, all the while with their $4.99 removable sticker in plain sight.