1997, before CD-burning was a rage, rarities collector Bill
Glahn wrote about how the then-new CD-Rs would revolutionise the
collector's market. The following article first appeared in the May 1997
issue of Bill Glahn's Live! Music Review. It is also the first of a series
of "teaser" articles from Piss On It: The Best Of Live! Music
Review, a collection of articles from the magazine, to be published by
BigO Books in 2003.
As one collector put it, "Someone up in the ivory towers of the RIAA must have steam coming out of their ears tonight."
What he was referring to was a massive release of 15 new titles (two are doubles) as CD-R limited editions of 1,000 each (a total of 17,000 discs). What is different about these CD-Rs than the "one at a time" examples that we have seen so far is that they are in sufficient quantities to satisfy the collectors market and they come with professionally printed covers and graphics.
If we can make an analogy to pot distribution; If the Florida bust of March 1997 was Operation Intercept (an early '70s botched attempt by the U.S. Government to halt pot distribution from Mexico), then CD-Rs are the equivalent of domestic homegrown. And while homegrown was looked down several decades ago as the poor man's pot, growers learned about seeds, cross pollination, ultra-violet lamps and such, so that now all different exotic forms of highly potent marijuana are grown within our own borders. Almost three decades after Operation Intercept, we even have states passing laws for the legal distribution of pot for medical purposes. Many Americans (in some States, most) support the full legalization of marijuana.
The process is slower these days than in the past. Prohibition took only 13 years to repeal but the public outcry eventually brought legal liquor back to America. Legal pot will probably happen within our lifetimes. But legal bootlegs will be a difficult fight. There is no organized opposition to the corporate music world. Yet.
But there is plenty of resistance to stream-lining music to the limited deck put out by the big six. And technology may turn out to be the music fan and bootleg collector's biggest ally. Not to mention the bootlegger's biggest ally as well.
With blank CD-Rs going for about US$3.00 per disc in large quantities, the basic cost of raw material is higher than for manufactured CDs. But now there are relatively inexpensive replicators available which can write (record) a CD-R in one-quarter time. Add a feeding system (now available) to a four-disc, quarter-time professional CD-R replicator, and anyone can manufacture approximately 120 CD-Rs overnight while they sleep. A manufacturing plant can be set up in any home or garage in America. No Customs to deal with. No overstock to have confiscated. Manufacturers can print the covers first and manufacture the CD-Rs as the orders come in. There is nothing giving Customs the power to stop the importation of blank discs. You can legally store as many blanks as you want. The only people you have to avoid are creeps like Dorothy Sherman (head of internet bootleg slooths, Greyzone) and Jules Zalone (lawyer for the Dave Matthews Band), because CD-Rs for sale are still illegal until the anti-bootleg statutes can be repealed and a more consumer-friendly and artist-friendly copyright law are put in its place.
But this time the bootleg genie has more than just flipped her finger at the official industry. She's in a position to grant the wishes of collectors on a scale never realized before. Bathtub gin has come to the world of bootlegged music. Some tastes great and some will blind you, but at least it's available.
Live! Music Review has always had a policy against reviewing CD-Rs because of the availability. What good does it do our readers to learn about CD-Rs that only exist in quantities of 20 or 30? But with professionally printed graphics and sufficient quantities, and the development of recognizable imprints (labels) there should be the amount of consistency and availability to justify inclusion within these pages.
The first batch of releases is put out by a new label, Goldtone. All discs carry the Goldtone label but a few of the pieces carry different label names indicating that a few of these releases may have been planned as regular CD (silver) releases. We've already seen them circulating at several record shows, so distribution seems to be pretty good. All copies that we obtained tracked correctly without any drop-outs. Computer jockeys tell me that they are possibly even more durable than standard CDs because the metals (gold in the case of Goldtone releases) are less corrosive. It also remains to be seen if the bootleggers are using proper ink for their CD-R graphics. Some types of ink can attack the integrity of the CD-R coating which could cause pinholes in the future. But I'm sure that any problems will be worked out as they have been with standard CDs. I enjoyed most of these releases tremendously and, after a couple of weeks of depression, can look to the future of bootlegs with enthusiasm. Live CDs are apparently here forever. Yippee!!
So bootleg fans everywhere, I present to you the future. And to the industry a two-handed middle finger salute. If you (the industry) don't want to put this stuff out, then you get what you deserve.
The Goldtone releases were soon followed by many recognizable CD-R imprints such as Head, Massive Attack, Fivedolar Discs, Vigotone (parlayed from a traditional silver disc bootlegger to an all-CD-R outfit), and many others.
Pot still hasn't been legalized in the U.S. but California passed a law legalizing medical marijuana (overturned by the feds). More recently, Arizona has passed by public referendum a law to legalize marijuana.
The IFPI (international equivalent of the RIAA) announced in 2000 that home copying of live concerts on CD-Rs had helped eliminate the threat of professional bootlegging. This is something like saying that Custer won the battle of Little Big Horn.
The RIAA has continued to pursue CD-R bootleggers with some success, including the arrest of the producers of the Vigotone label in 2001. But for every success, there seem to be a dozen or so other bootleggers jumping into the fray.
Blank CD-Rs have dropped in price to about 20 cents each. CD-R replicators can now "burn" a disc at 64x. The cost of manufacturing a CD-R is now equal to and, in some cases, less than the cost of manufacturing a traditional CD. Retail prices in some places have dropped to as little as US$5.00 per disc, meaning bootleg CD-Rs are available at a fraction of the cost of industry releases (the official industry having never dropped the prices of CDs as they became cheaper to produce). The stigma of a "high-priced rip-off" when a bootleg doesn't measure up to sonic expectations is gone forever.
Some traditional CDs (both official and bootleg) have shown significant signs of rot. CD-Rs do, indeed, seem to be holding up without problem. Even the newer CD-R configurations that do not feature a gold element.
More unreleased live music is available than ever before. All previous bootleg releases are back "in print" as long as a collector has an original and a CD-R burner to make copies for his/her collecting friends.
And last, but certainly not least, more recording artists than ever are fighting to regain control of their own recordings from the record labels. Many are releasing their own official archival material (sanctioned bootlegs).
Reviews of some significant Goldtone CD-R releases
(many more included in the upcoming Piss On It: The Best Of Live! Music
Review book, including releases by other CD-R specialists):
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