Home taping is killing music…
A campaign , I seem to remember, from the eighties, urging us to forgo copying the records that we had spent a substantial percentage of our incomes on, and to forgo sharing them with others...I remember a cassette version of In God We Trust Inc by The Dead Kennedys which carried the legend Home taping is killing big time entertainment industry profits. Therefore side two of this tape has been left blank for your convenience.
I never had many records. I never really had the money for records. My first real recollection of pocket money was that I was given about £4 per week when an LP cost about £3- I was a bit of a late developer in that sense. However, when I was eleven I was given a Phillips radio cassette recorder, a dark grey beast of a thing. I taped songs off the radio- indiscriminately at first, the pop songs from daytime Radio One. Then I became more daring, tuning in to the evening programmes, John Peel and Radio Luxembourg. There was a single earplug, the colour and texture of which was oddly surgical, with a thin twirly cable, and I would sit hunched in the bed listening to the medium wave drift with my finger poised above the red record button.
Then, as confidence in technology grew, there was the 5 pin din cable, with the aid of which you could connect to friends’ cheap record players and make unsatisfactory tinny recordings. And the ‘heads would need cleaning’ or the tape would be ‘stretched’. And I would fantasize about huge vinyl collections and music centers with integral cassette decks with dolby and little meters that showed ‘recording levels’ by the twitching of a needle on a dial.
In school, of course, I was exposed to wider tastes. Amongst friends’ knowing older brothers punk and ‘new wave’ had taken hold whilst there was still a great deal of loyalty for the heavy rock and the progressive.
Then there was the obstacle of actually knowing people well enough to ask them for a tape. I remember one friend whose brother was particularly stingy- you had to pass some subtle test of approval before he would knock you up a copy (I somehow passed this test and got my C90 back with XTC’s White Music).Others were more accessibility minded and circulated tapes in the hopes of drawing proselytes to follow their favoured bands. It was in this way that I came to be an avid follower of some groups that would otherwise have remained far off my radar.
Living in the provinces some of the music I heard on Peel was hard to get, and I would look at my inky old copies of NME and yearn for the tantalizingly recent past when the rarities I longed for were still relatively accessible. On the other hand, many assured ‘classics’ just didn’t do it for me- a phenomenon that persists to this day.
When I actually began to collect records home tapes were no substitute for the actual thing: the records and sleeves as objects attained an importance as great as that of the music itself- in these cases a home tape was no more than an unsatisfactory blurred snapshot of a breathtaking scene. Oh those exquisite albums played on expensive hi-fis in centrally heated bedrooms where the speakers gave a satisfying hum before the complex and perfectly balanced arm dropped onto the pristine disc…
By the time I got to college I was buying records regularly- I had a good collection of anarcho punk records and did my own share of home tape proselytizing- but surviving on £18 a week after rent my income was hopelessly inadequate when it came to slaking my thirst for punk and its emerging subsidiary genres. Many of the records on my wish list were already, by 1983, exceedingly rare and pricy.
Home taping to the rescue. A local punk of renown had what amounted to a definitive library of alternative music since 1975, and I would return home from his house exhilarated as a couple of red labelled cassettes rattled in the pocket of my donkey jacket. In time I tracked down many of the records he taped for me- some I’m still after.
When I fell into the working world in the mid eighties I again was exposed to a great broadening of my musical experience. One friend had a tremendous collection of obscure and limited independent releases from which he pieced together his eagerly awaited psychotic compilations- another was an audiophile who has roomfuls of vinyl that reeked of authenticity.
By the nineties I had a substantial collection and again proselytized, knocking out tapes in the hope of enlightening friends and colleagues whose taste I thought dubious.
If I could have once more that long lost suitcase that I mentioned in a previous post I would find that it contained demos of friends’ bands, a fair number of tapes that were of rarities that I had little hope of ever tracking down, a large number of tapes that I had been given by people eager to influence my tastes but that I might have listened to, unimpressed, only a handful of times, and an equally large number of much loved almost worn out tapes of bands that I might not otherwise have ever heard, but got into and whose work I went on to collect, where available, in its ‘legitimate’ form.
So, In my case, and probably for millions of others, home taping formed the basis of a broad musical education and an enduring habit of collecting records and CDs, along with a passionate desire to share these ‘discoveries’ with others who might otherwise have remained ignorant of some really great music. Home taping didn’t kill music, but rather helped to spread it to ears that simply would not have heard if the industry had had its way.
Which brings me on to file sharing…
At the turn of the century I became aware of the existence in my neighbourhood of a loose group of thirty-something opportunists who sold CDs. I understood that they somehow downloaded the music off the internet, the quality of the products was dubious- obviously pirated with low definition inkjet printed covers and labels. These guys circulated catalogues and pedalled the kind of stuff you could pick up for £9.99 in Tesco (or even Woolworth) for about half the price. They have moved on to DVDs now. Now that’s what I call piracy…
When curious friends ask me about Burning Aquarium (it’s a bit of an obsession) I tell them offhandedly that essentially it’s devoted to music piracy, but of course, I don’t really believe that. I hope that it’s about giving people the opportunity to appreciate music that they might otherwise have never heard- either because it’s not widely covered or no longer readily available.
Essentially this is an extension, on a much larger scale, of the days when I used to give my mates in the pub a tape and urge them to check it out.
So, here I might offer you some Welsh punk from 1987, some dub or proto punk from 1975, some Soviet era rock or an obscure indie 7” from 1990. But if I ever offer you a knock down low quality version of the latest Lily Allen or a greatest hits compilation* that you could pick up for £2 on Amazon, I urge you to report me to the appropriate authorities. Thanks for visiting. Enjoy the music
*Unless, of course, it’s Songs to Learn and Sing by Echo and the Bunnymen…