Monday, December 20, 2010
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Hunting Down Blur Recordings
***DISCLAIMER*** LONG ARTICLE ALERT!
Also, I think I'm going to make this the first in a series of articles on the collecting/detective work that goes on behind tracking down rare and uncirculated Blur recordings. What do you think? Would this be interesting to you?
A poster on the Facebook page recently expressed interest in an article talking about what goes in to tracking down rare and uncirculated live recordings of Blur. I agreed with him that this would make a great idea for an article…I felt that it could offer insight into the meat of a project like this, which is, of course, the music. Also, as a collector myself, I always enjoy hearing these “behind-the-scenes” stories and I figure most other people would as well. Right up front, however, I’ll just mention that I am going to leave names and specifics out of this article, since a lot of the collectors/tapers I deal with like to remain behind the curtain, so to speak, and I’ll honor that (you’ll see that honor is quality that important as a collector…patience is another one, and we’ll get to that later!) and thus they’ll remain anonymous.
First, a bit of background: I grew up as a huge music fan and always enjoyed live albums in addition to the studio ones. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when I was finishing up high school, that I had my first exposure to bootlegs and live recordings. I was browsing the Led Zeppelin bin at my local record store at the time (In Your Ear Music in Plymouth, New Hampshire, sadly defunct) and found a CD called “White Summer” which I had never heard of. On the back it said “Recorded live at the BBC Playhouse Theatre in June 1969.” I promptly bought it and went home to listen to it and was astounded at the quality of the performance (I was also spoiled by the fact that it was a pristine soundboard recording, as most bootlegs sound far inferior!). It blew my mind because the only official Led Zeppelin live document (at the time) was the The Song Remains the Same album, and this was a world apart and had different songs. Some months later I was in another now-defunct record store in Dover called The Lost Chord, and the fellow had a box set of Beatles CDs called Unsurpassed Masters Vols. 1-7. Again, I had never heard of these and bought them. When I got home I realized these were studio outtakes and unreleased tracks, and some of the stuff on them was truly amazing. From here it grew to buying bootleg tapes and CDs from vendors at the local universities (including my own…yes, they used to sell bootlegs at colleges!) until, with my first exposure to the internet in 1997, I began tape trading and later on, CDR trading. As the years went by, technology advanced to the point we’re at today with torrents and online uploading and swapping of digital files…I still engage in the odd CDR trade here or there, but for the most part, snail mail trades are dead.
All of this brief background brings me to the gist of this article…tracking down and acquiring rare and/or uncirculated recordings. Because what ends up happening when you collect any band long enough is that, eventually, you end up getting a hold of everything that is available, but you know there is more out there, so the search begins. In the days before the internet, it was quite a challenge since everything was done by word of mouth or through the mail. Nowadays, it’s much easier (although it’s not *easy*) to search stuff out. Learning about the existence of rare tapes and figuring out who has them can happen many different ways:
1) A person who you’ve traded with already has some rare stuff they decide to let you know about and share it. This happens fairly often, where someone had been holding something back and will eventually let you know they have it and offer to trade it. Quite often, there will be conditions attached, such as not being able to tell anyone where you got it, not being allowed to share it out yourself, and so on. It’s always a good idea to honor these requests, as it’s the right thing to do from an honor standpoint, and also it shows that you’re trustworthy and keeps the tape pipeline open.
2) Someone you trade with knows someone. This happens quite a lot, too. Once you’ve become known as a serious collector of a band, a lot of time a trading partner will know someone (either personally or through their own trading circles) who has rarer stuff. These interactions can either be tricky or relatively smooth depending on how receptive the person your contact knows is to sharing with a stranger at first. I’ve been lucky in that every instance I’ve had this type of dealing, my collecting counterpart has always been very friendly and eager to share.
3) A kind and generous soul contacts you, offering a rare tape. This happens quite a lot, as well, although only since the advent of the internet. One thing I’ve been blessed with while working on my Blur book project (and my own collection) is this type of interaction, many times over. Whether they’ve contacted me via email, my blog, the Facebook or Twitter page, or just randomly, many kind souls have offered me recordings. I always offer something in return, but more often than not, despite my insistence, they decline, saying they don’t want anything in return. These are the best kind of people, willing to share with you simply to help out!
4) The last type of person you’ll deal with is someone who you contact out of the blue. Often times I’ll find these people’s lists while trawling the internet looking for shows. Sometimes it’s someone I used to trade with year ago who won’t remember who I am. It could be someone on DIME or another torrent site who seems to have some rare stuff, so I’ll send them an email, or they could be listed at a database site like Tape Trader or Etree. In any event, this is the hardest type of person to deal with since you have no idea what they’re like beforehand, and you’re contacting them out of the blue. I’ve found over the years that you need to be gracious, humble, and not too eager…I know in the past I’ve scared off quite a few potential trading partners by being too overeager and pushy, at times. The key here is to give them space and approach gently until you get to know them. I would say 95% of the people I’ve dealt with in this fashion have ended up being really cool and easy to deal with. The other 5% either ignore you, stop replying to your emails after agreeing to a trade (which is so aggravating!), or tell you in no uncertain terms to f**k off!
So the type of interactions I typically have in tracking down these Blur recordings are summarized for the most part above. I should add that, thanks to the internet, while the vast majority of these people hail from the UK and USA, I’ve also dealt with people all over the world, from Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, Canada, South America, and so on.
I mentioned how it pays to be honest in your dealings with trading partners, especially those who are sharing out rarer material. This means don’t stiff anyone on a trade, keep the lines of communication open, and so on. There is one other quality that is ESSENTIAL and one I’ve gotten better at over the years: PATIENCE.
It can be excruciatingly slow sometimes to trade with some collectors. Oftentimes they’re very busy with work and their life and have to fit in your wants when they can. Some people don’t respond to emails for a long time. And some people are just SLOW. I’m currently in the middle of a trade I started in April of 2010 with a fellow…it was a small trade, 3 shows. I sent him the shows he wanted from me in April. I’ve gotten one from him and am *still* waiting on the other 2, which need to be converted from cassette to WAV. And, to top it all off, this fellow goes months in between replying to my emails. It’s frustrating, but I have to keep my cool and stay polite and patient. In the end it will be worth it. There was another fellow who promised to send me a rare tape, with nothing in return, in May 2010. He even asked for my address so he could send it right out. Not only do I not have the tape, I’m still waiting to hear back from him (he hasn’t responded to any emails). Some people have gone so far as to set up trades with me and, after emailing back and forth for over a year, have stopped responding. There are two great fellows I’m trading with right now who are taking a while, but that’s because they’re busy with life/family/work, and I know they’re doing a favor for me by taking the time to convert their tapes and send them to me…you guys know who you are if you’re reading this, and I thank you! In fact, that goes for everyone I’ve traded with since 1997, and everyone who has sent me ANYTHING for my collection and for the Black Book project. Without you it wouldn’t be nearly as detailed, complete, or fun!
I’ll end this article, for now, and leave you with a little (and true) anecdote. About 8 years ago, when I was a graduate student, I found a trading website run by a fellow from Australia. He had a few rare Blur tapes I’d never known about, ones he had recorded himself. I emailed him to set up a trade, and he had said he could do that, and instead of sending him tapes, could I buy him something off of eBay and have it shipped to him (he’d cover postage, but he wanted to get a better deal on the currency exchange rate…sounded reasonable to me). However, my wife and I were newlyweds and really strapped for cash at the time, so I said I couldn’t do it at the moment, but how about a trade in a few months. He said sure, no problem. Then I never heard from him again. Fast forward to 2009. Every few months since 2002 I had continued to send a gentle “hello” and reminder email to the fellow’s email address. It never bounced back, but I assumed he never used it anymore. And then, in 2009, a few months before I published Black Book, he replied! He’d been getting my emails and had always meant to write back but forgot and had just been so busy with life. He gladly agreed to trade the recordings to me, and within weeks I had the tapes I’d been pining away for since 2002. While most of the time, if you miss out on a trade, it’s gone forever, this was one of those rare, happy times where dogged persistence paid off. I’m currently doing the same thing with another tape I’ve had my eye on since 2001…I last heard from the fellow in March 2010, so we’ll see how that one ends. ;-)
Special thanks to Jon Muller from the Facebook page, who mentioned he'd be interested in reading about this subject. I thought it was a great idea for an articleand I hope you do, too!