The pirate and the bootlegger

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By Owen Ferguson

To the casual observer, CD replay, located next door to the Uptown movie theatre, looks like an ordinary CD store. It has large racks full of Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys CDs and perky staff behind the counter. But a quick browse through the CDs on display might leave you thinking, “Hmm… I didn’t know U2 had an album called Watch More TV. And what’s this? An REM album called Automatically Live? Why haven’t I heard of that one?”

Welcome to the world of bootlegs, the do it yourself music industry.

Bootlegs are to music what home-grown pot is to drugs. Although some people swear by them — and you do occasionally find some that’s really good — most of them suck. Also, both are illegal, although pot can get you in a lot more trouble.

If you make your friend a tape copy of your latest Backstreet Boys CD, you’re not making a bootleg — you’re making a pirate recording. The classic definition of a bootleg is “a copy of any work never officially released by the artist who recorded it.” Jack, a bootlegger from Detroit, is adamant about the difference between the two. “I hate fucking pirates. If people didn’t pirate real albums, the record companies wouldn’t be so pissed about bootlegs and keep cracking down on us.”

Bootlegs can be divided into two strains: live recordings and demo recordings. Live recordings are unauthorized recordings of live recordings of live concerts, either by people who sneak recorders ito the audience, or by people who work at the concert venue and hook recorders directly into the mixing board. Although the quality of most audience recordings usually ranges from really, really bad to totally awful, recordings direct from the mixing board — known as “soundboard” bootlegs — are usually crystal clear, wonderful recordings.

Recording live bootlegs yourself can be difficult. Often, security searches everyone who enters a concert and confiscates any recording devices. To avoid this kind of search and seizure, you need a recorder that is as small as possible.

Dom, a bootleggers from Mississauga, usually uses a Sony mini-disc recorder tucked in the front of his underwear, hooked up to a small microphone on each shoulder.

“I like mini-disc recording quality and it’s small. I wear a mic on each shoulder to get the full stereo effect,” he says. Dom finds that standing right between the speakers, about 25 feet back from the stage, produces the best recordings. “I try to keep other people away from me because if they start talking it can ruin a good recording. I like to keep the audience noise low,” he says.

Jack, on the other hand, never makes audience recordings. A veteran of many years in the Detroit bootlegging scene, he has worked for dozens of different clubs and concert venues, using his access to the sounds systems there to make clear recordings. “I’ve worked at basically every club in Detroit, and those that I haven’t, I have friends who work there,” he says.

Jack and Dom then make copies of their recordings to sell to fans over the internet or to trade with other bootleggers. Most bootlegs eventually end up in the hands of “professional” bootlegging companies who produce professionally packaged bootlegs in countries with lenient copyright laws (such as Italy). These are the glossy, well made bootleg CDs that make in on to the shelves of stores like CD replay.

Bootlegs of other strain are known as “demo” recordings. These bootlegs are collections of studio recordings that have never been released. Demos include early, experimental versions of songs later released in a different forms, as well as songs that never get released in any form. Demos find their way into the bootleg market through a number of channels. Record company employees will steal demo tapes of popular bands from the company archives, friends (or former friends) of bands will have a few old home recordings of the band’s earlier work and sometimes the band itself will release the recordings, but not take credit for them. These recordings are usually sold directly to professional bootlegs companies, for sizable sums of money. One early four-song home recording by David Bowie was reportedly sold for more than $10,000.

So how can you get your hands on bootlegs by your favourite band? Well, your best bet is to check out CD Replay at 762 Yonge St. They have quite a few bootlegs available, but be prepared to fork over a sizeable sum for them (single bootlegs cost anywhere from $40 to $50). You can usually find bootlegs available for a lot less on the internet, where CDs cost around $15 US and tapes about $8. The best thing to do is post a message in whatever usenet newsgroup serves fans of your favourite band and ask if anyone has any bootlegs to sell. Once you’ve collected a number of good bootlegs, you can start trading copies of them with other fans and increase your collection without spending much money on it. Most of the bootlegs traded over the internet are tape copies, but CD recorders have gotten so cheap lately (about $400) that many people are starting to trade CD copies.


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