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Bootlegs: Technology Making it Easier to Record and Distribute

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Bootleg recordings of live shows used to be of very poor quality and had to be distributed manually. No more:

    The day after Tori Amos shocked fans in England with a piano rendition of the Eagles’ “Desperado,” MP3s of her performance showed up in Nashville, Tennessee, where David Mobley downloaded one from alt.binaries.tori-amos. “The Tori community is loosely organized,” says the 25-year-old cable TV employee, “but it gets shows to people quickly.”

    Fans have traded live bootlegs for decades (“Got that ‘Dark Star’ from Cleveland ’73?”). But the tech – gadgets like laptop recorders, portable DAT players, and pen-sized microphones, as well as distribution methods like SHNapster and FTP servers – keeps getting better. With the upgrades, trading communities have spread well beyond the Deadheads. It’s easy to find concerts by Beck, Oasis, and Radiohead. “It becomes, ‘How much time do I have in the day to burn it?'” says John Bartol, a 35-year-old IT consultant from Alexandria, Virginia, who has been taping and trading concerts since 1984. “There’s always more to grab.”

    Among the booters’ most inventive tactics: using wireless radio receivers that capture signals sent to the in-ear monitors musicians wear to hear one another onstage. Fans can record a pristine feed of the entire show from outside the venue [Wired]

Pearl Jam is selling “authorized bootlegs” of their shows. Phish allows recording and trading of their shows for noncommercial purposes.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Tom

    You know, this may sound completely backwards, but some of the fun has gone out of finding bootlegs. It’s gotten so easy to find great quality recordings that the excitement of the hunt for good boots has pretty much died. While I abhor mp3 for nearly any use but checking out stuff I’m not familiar with, I do stand by SHN, APE, and the other lossless formats. That I can pull up or Furthurnet everyday and find more stuff than I can possibly listen to available for free downloads is a testament to the will of the people – we want our live stuff and we want it now! I’m glad to see bands responding in kind and either allowing trading or putting out there own material.

    Used to be I’d go to my favorite bootleg-friendly shops in town, ask for that week’s edition of The List from their supplier and proceed to analyze it for tasty, illegal little morsels. Then it would be weeks of waiting while the bootleg CDs slipped from one bootleg agent’s trenchcoat to another (or something less glamorous, I’m sure.) Finally I’d stop by and it would be there, glistening in a new jewelcase, with cheesy artwork, misspelled song titles, mysterious origins, and the big unknown – sound quality – all waiting for me to dig into. It was hit and miss. There was little to go on other than what Ice magazine *might* publish in the “Going Underground” section, or what you might hear about from others into the band. You might get a gem, you might get a lump of coal. That was what made it fun – the very fact that you may just get bit, bad – to the tune of $50+ for a double-disc show – that made it so exciting. What’s even more amazing is, once you’d plopped that $50 down, you found a way to enjoy even the worst, muffled tape-deck-in-jacket-pocket recording. You’d tweak your eq settings hoping to clear it up a bit, but in general, the bad ones were pretty awful. And you learned trustable names – KTS, Oxygen, Red Phantom, Great Dane – and knew to expect the worst when something you just had to have wasn’t on one of those vaunted labels. It was a big game. Record-shows were like the Superbowl of bootlegs events – they may have masqueraded as a travelling vinyl record geek-fest, but on nearly every table would be a small selection of the latest and greatest offerings from the illicit world of bootleg recordings (ostensibly almost always based out of Italy.) If you couldn’t find what you wanted in your local store, you waited for the big show twice a year. If you couldn’t find it there . . . it didn’t exist. But you’d keep your hopes up that the next time around, it would be there.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that we’re not paying scumbag bootleggers for material the band will never get compensated for, but I do miss the forced-appreciation of a sort that was part of the bootleg world before the internet made all this possible. You had to make tough choices between multiple highly tempting shows. If you got it and it was a let down, well, find something to like about it or you’ll never buy one again. Now, this stuff is so easy to track down. I have, literally, hundreds of bootlegs that I have traded for or downloaded over the past couple of years. I don’t listen to ANY of them like I used to listen to the expensive boots I used to buy. And that’s a shame, really. But that doesn’t stop me from downloading that stuff . . .

    So, yeah, some of the fun has been taken away, simply by doing the right thing. I’m amazed – I actually feel nostalgic for the days when I was being ripped off for badly recorded live material. That doesn’t mean I want to go back to them, however!

  • Eric Olsen

    Tom, that was a much more interesting and meaningful comment than the post itself – beautiful. You should write it up as a post. Thanks, EO

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