Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Home Taping" Hurr Durr

I'm not a musician. I have some sympathy for the artist - seemingly more than most hip-hop bloggers today - but I generally leave them to fight their own battles. Illegal downloading killing your career? Well, maybe if you'd pressed up your album I would've supported, but you didn't care so I don't.

There is however, one point I feel compelled to make, just because I see so many people get it wrong in online discussions. It's frustrating, damn it.

We've all seen it. The usual "mp3s are killing music!" versus "artists need to adapt!" debates, and someone ironically posts the old "HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC" logo (which did have a pretty awesome image, I must admit). Laugh at how paranoid and foolish the music was for thinking taping stuff off the radio, or making cassette copies of albums, would topple the music industry. I mean, they probably did lose some revenue, but don't look at that. The joke is how senseless they were being.

But here's where the comparison really becomes invalid:

1) This is a lesser point, but I'll throw it out there anyway. Home taping still required blank tapes. It was substantially cheaper than buying a proper cassette album Sam Goody's, but there was still a discouraging expense involved that isn't there in sharing mp3s. This is marginal (but still a factor) if we're talking me hooking a friend up with a tape of an album. But it's huge when you compare the cost of uploading one mp3 to a site like Zshare for free and having hundreds - or even theoretically potentially billions - download it verses the cost of buying a blank tape for every one of those people.

2) But more importantly, that the internet is killing the distribution gatekeepers... which for the most part, I'll happily concede, is a good thing. What that means, however, is that the labels, the stores, etc. no longer have any say in what music you get. In olden days, if no music store in your area stocked the album you wanted, you were SOL (shit outta luck). And I'm not just talking about, "damn, my local Sam Goody's doesn't carry Esham's first EP!" What they didn't stock were album dubs. You couldn't say, hey let me pass on that $10 album and get the $1 dub of it instead. But now on the internet, it's just as easy (if not easier) to download something free and illegal as it is to get it legally.

3) A dubbed cassette tape, with a generic Maxwell or whatever logo and the title of the album written in ballpoint pen seriously lacked the luster of a proper album, with the track-listing printed nicely on the tape, and of course the fold-out cover art and liner notes. But an mp3 from Amazon or Itunes has no advantage of an mp3 you snagged off of Soulseek or some random blog. In fact, with issues like DRM, the illegal copy might just be better.

So, anyway, my point isn't to make a grandstand against internet piracy or anything like that. It just irks me when people make the "home taping" point without any realization or acknowledgment of how off-base a comparison it is. And even if you want to pull a "well, that's just, like, your opinion, man," on me, I think a look at the Soundscan numbers after the rise of home taping versus the after the rise of Napster will show an incredibly vast distinction in declining sales.

So, go ahead. Continue to download everything you like. I don't care. Just don't throw that cassette and crossbones logo into any more message board debates as if you'd just intellectually crushed the opposition.


  1. i've seen the comparison plenty also. the most successful discussions though have involved drawing parallels between the recording industry's reactionary response and anti-consumer strategy in both instances of technological advancement. i think if you concentrate on comparing a tape to an mp3 you are missing the point. the point is that the corporate executives primary concern (not saying this is right or wrong) is the survival and growth of the corporation, not the benefit or progress of the consumers.

  2. Nice commentary. What's interesting with the blank tapes angle is that I remember reading (I think on something to do with Negativeland) that around that time there was a small movement to add an extra tax to the price of each blank tape sold - which would then be redistributed to artists to make up for loss of direct sales. It's a nice principle.

    I always wonder whether it would have made sense all round to put a similar tax on the purchase of MP3 players (and MP3-capable phones) to make up for the obvious loss of sales. No one would baulk at an extra $20 or $30 if they're paying a few hundred dollars anyway.

    But it's all too late now, I guess. And I totally agree with this point: "Well, maybe if you'd pressed up your album I would've supported, but you didn't care so I don't."

  3. Although you say 1) is a lesser point, and you're probably right, it's worth remembering that while you may not have to pay Zshare themselves, or other such sites, the internet is NOT free, there are still many costs associated with it.
    But that's just nitpicky, so I'll leave it there.

  4. True, Mike. But that money doesn't help the musicians or labels at any rate.

    That's like if your local Sam Goody's was giving all its merchandise away 100% for free, but you've still gotta put gas in your car to get over there. =)

  5. This is a great post and there is a key sentence that you wrote: "Illegal downloading killing your career? Well, maybe if you'd pressed up your album I would've supported, but you didn't care so I don't." That's it right there... ANYONE can knock a track up and post it online anywhere for free. It might be the modern "Nation Of Millions" LP for all we know, but throwing up MP3s is crazy wack.

    In the UK there are DJs that refuse to play MP3s of any description. Why you ask? Well if you believed in your music enough, you'd press a dubplate of it, or even a run of 50 copies (it's cheap anough now) and send them out to DJs. If a rip of it comes online somewhere, you know one of the DJs you sent it to has ripped it and shared it. Want to keep it exclusive? Get just 1 test press done and only give it to one big DJ to break that track, make it a signature track, OR, post out about 20 copies to DJs but give individual DJs a dub with a VIP version of it, very popular with Drum and Bass DJs here. People should stop fucking bitching about losing sales and either just accept that there's no money in it and carry on, or only put stuff out on wax. Fuck MP3s & fuck Serato, in fact fuck the internet too!! If I could switch the internet off today I would, get the independent record shops back in business and meet up with friends in a record shop on a Saturday afternoon when the distribution van turns up with precious new sealed import 12s to salivate over, even outbid your mates for that exclusive shit, play it on the pirate radio stations, do mixtapes that you can't get anywhere else except from that particular DJ. In fact fuck CDs too, too easy to copy, in fact, FUCK COMPUTERS as well!!!! I was more than happy with an s1000 and a 4 track recorder back in the early 90s. You could argue against me here, the fact that we couldn't share all this knowledge without the internet, but so whatt, these days no one actually GETS INTO NEW MUSIC anyway, it's a one listen free download and throw it away. If the only medium was Wax or even cassetts, you'd listen to those shits cos rewinding your walkman uses too much battery, so you listen to them shits all the way through, even the wack cuts like I Need Love on "I'm Bad", yes, I know all the words cos I couldn't afford muthafuckin batteries all the time. fUCKIN GREAT POST, GREAT BLOG AND LETS ALL GET IN A TIME MACHINE, GO BACK TO 1985 AND EXECUTE THE INVENTER OF CD WRITERS AND THE INTERNET!!!!! Nuff respect, WAXER.