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House Taping Is Killing Music: When the Music Trade Waged Conflict on the Cassette Tape Throughout the Eighties, and Punk Bands Fought Again


The primary time I noticed the notorious Skullcassette-and-Bones emblem was on vacation within the UK and bought the very un-punky Chariots of Fireplace soundtrack. It was on the internal sleeve. “House Taping Is Killing Music” it proclaimed. It was? I requested myself. “And it’s unlawful” a subhead added. It’s? I additionally requested myself. (Satirically, this was just a few months earlier than I got here into possession of my first mixture turntable-cassette deck.)

Ten years and racks and racks of do-it-yourself cassette dubs on my cabinets later, music gave the impression to be doing very effectively. (Later, by going digital, the music business killed itself, and I had completely nothing to do with it.)

British file collectors will little doubt keep in mind this marketing campaign that began in 1981, one other business-backed “ethical” panic. And funnily sufficient it had nothing to do with dubbing vinyl.

As a substitute, the British Phonographic Trade (BPI) have been taking goal at individuals who have been recording songs off the radio as an alternative of buying data. With the rise of the cassette tape in reputation, the BPI noticed kilos and pence leaving their pockets.

Now, determining misplaced earnings from residence taping might be a fools’ errand, however let’s give attention to the “unlawful” half. Technically, that is true. Radio stations pay licensing charges to play music, so a client taping that music off the radio is infringing on the music’s copyright. Britain has very completely different “honest use” legal guidelines than America. As well as, digital radio and clearer alerts have difficult issues through the years.

In apply, nevertheless, the entire thing was bunkum. Radio recordings are historic. Mixtapes are tradition. I’ve my tapes of John Peel’s BBC exhibits, which I recorded for the music. Now, I take heed to them for Peel’s intros and outros.

Critically, the Napalm Dying Peel Periods *solely* make sense along with his commentary. Whoever taped that is an unknown legend:

The post-punk crowd knew the marketing campaign was bunkum too. Malcolm McLaren, all the time the provocateur, launched Bow Wow Wow’s cassette-only-single C-30 C-60 C-90 Go with a clean B-side that urged shoppers to file their very own music. EMI shortly dropped the band.

The Lifeless Kennedys additionally repeated the black b-side gimmick with In God We Belief, Inc. (I’d be curious about anyone who picks up a replica used of both to see what *is* on the b-side).

After which there have been the parodies. The metallic group Venom used “House Taping Is Killing Music; So Are Venom” on an album; Peter Precept provided “House Taping Is Making Music”: Billy Bragg saved it Marxist: “Capitalism is killing music – pay not more than £4.99 for this file”. For the business, music was the product; for the common people, music was communication, it was artwork, it was a language.

The marketing campaign by no means did a lot injury. Makes an attempt to levy a tax on clean cassettes didn’t get traction within the UK. And BPI’s director common John Deacon was annoyed that file corporations didn’t need to splash the Jolly Roger on internal sleeves. The brand lives on, nevertheless, as a part of torrent website Pirate Bay’s sails:

Simply after the hysteria died down, compact discs started their rise, planting the seeds for the digital revolution, the mp3, file sharing, and now streaming.

(Wait, is it doable to file web streams? Why, sure.)

You probably have any tales about the way you helped “kill music” by recording your favourite DJs, confess your crimes within the feedback.

Notice: An earlier model of this submit appeared on our website in 2019.

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Associated Content material:

Frank Zappa Debates Whether or not the Authorities Ought to Censor Music in a Heated Episode of Crossfire: Why Are Individuals Afraid of Phrases? (1986)

The Devilish Historical past of the Eighties Parental Advisory Sticker: When Heavy Steel & Satanic Lyrics Collided with the Spiritual Proper

75 Submit-Punk and Hardcore Live shows from the Eighties Have Been Digitized & Put On-line: Fugazi, GWAR, Lemonheads, Dain Bramage (with Dave Grohl) & Extra

Ted Mills is a contract author on the humanities who at the moment hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. It’s also possible to comply with him on Twitter at @tedmills, learn his different arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his movies right here.



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