House Taping Is Killing Music: When the Music Industry Waged War on the Cassette Tape in the 1980s, and Punk Bands Resisted

The very first time I saw the infamous Skullcassette-and-Bones logo was on holiday in the UK and acquired the really un-punky Chariots of Fire soundtrack. It was on the inner sleeve. “House Taping Is Killing Music” it announced. It was? I asked myself. “And it’s unlawful” a subhead included. It is? I also asked myself. (Ironically, this was a few months before I came into ownership of my very first mix turntable-cassette deck.)

10 years and racks and racks of homemade cassette calls on my shelves later on, music seemed to be doing really well. (Later, by going digital, the music industry killed itself, and I had definitely nothing to do with it.)

British record collectors will no doubt remember this project that began in 1981, another business-backed “ethical” panic. And interestingly enough it had absolutely nothing to do with calling vinyl.

Instead, the British Phonographic Market (BPI) were taking goal at people who were recording tunes off the radio instead of purchasing records. With the rise of the cassette tape in popularity, the BPI saw pounds and pence leaving their pockets.

Now, finding out lost make money from house taping might be a fools’ errand, however let’s focus on the “illegal” part. Technically, this is real. Radio stations pay licensing costs to play music, so a customer taping that tune off the radio is infringing on the tune’s copyright. Britain has really different “fair use” laws than America. In addition, digital radio and a clearer signals have complicated matters for many years.

In practice, nevertheless, the entire thing was bunkum. Radio recordings are historic. Mixtapes are culture. I have my tapes of John Peel’s BBC reveals, which I recorded for the music. Now, I listen to them for Peel’s intros and outros.

Seriously, the Napalm Death Peel Sessions * just * make good sense with his commentary. Whoever taped this is an unknown legend:

The post-punk crowd understood the campaign was bunkum too. Malcolm McLaren, always the provocateur, launched Bow Wow Wow’s cassette-only-single C-30 C-60 C-90 Go with a blank B-side that advised consumers to tape their own music. EMI rapidly dropped the band.

The Dead Kennedys likewise repeated the black b-side gimmick with In God We Trust, Inc.(I would have an interest in anybody who gets a copy utilized of either to see what * is * on the b-side).

And After That there were the parodies. The metal group Venom utilized “House Taping Is Eliminating Music; So Are Venom” on an album; Peter Concept used “Home Taping Is Making Music”: Billy Bragg kept it Marxist: “Industrialism is eliminating music – pay no greater than ₤ 4.99 for this record”. For the market, music was the product; for the routine folks, music was communication, it was art, it was a language.

The project never ever did much damage. Efforts to impose a tax on blank cassettes didn’t get traction in the UK. And BPI’s director general John Deacon was irritated that record business didn’t wish to splash the Jolly Roger on inner sleeves. The logo lives on, however, as part of gush site Pirate Bay’s sails:

Simply after the hysteria waned, compact discs began their increase, planting the seeds for the digital revolution, the mp3, file sharing, and now streaming.

( Wait, is it possible to record web streams? Why, yes.)

If you have any stories about how you helped “kill music” by taping your favorite DJs, confess your criminal activities in the comments.

Associated Content:

2,000 Cassettes from the Allen Ginsberg Audio Collection Now Streaming Online

Listen to Audio Arts: The 1970 s Tape Cassette Arts Publication Featuring Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp & Numerous Others

Save the Noise, an Online Museum Protects the Sounds of Past Technologies– from Typewriters, Electric Shavers and Cassette Recorders, to Cameras & Classic Nintendo

Ted Mills is a self-employed writer on the arts who presently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast You can likewise follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts composing at and/or see his movies here

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