OCR fun: The Financial Review 1981

I’ve been told that it’s difficult to read some of the scans in our image library. They were not designed for that, and are really thumbnails of the collection. But I am starting to OCR them, because that also makes them easier to find online.

This is an account of the so-called “cassette revolution” that appeared in the Financial Review, which why the word marketing appears so often. As you would expect it predicts much that never came true. It’s a useful document for people who are selling cassettes 30+ years later.

It took a few hours to clean this up, and there are still errors. Such is OCR.

Cassettes spinning up a wildly different market. By Joanne Pemberton, Financial Review October 1981

Punk bands threatened to force changes in the recording industry for a time around the turn of the decade until the record companies mass marketed a suitable substitute – but the record industry never really had much to worry about. Its grasp of marketing and eventually its ability to absorb major trends, has been absolute. But now there is a chance cassettes will make life more difficult in the future. There is a new market the record industry has missed.

ROCK music released on cassettes marketed through the import record shops and mail order businesses, and promoted by word of mouth around the pubs where the bands play, is starting to make an imprint on the Australian music industry. Cassette recording and distribution groups have established themselves in the music strongholds of Sydney and Melbourne, with more in Queensland, Adelaide and Wollongong.

They are marketing local groups playing the music crowds go to hear in pubs around the suburbs and some of the best of overseas groups not available on local commercial releases.

The fact that they are not catering for the mass markets does not matter – the techniques of cheap cassette reproduction mean quality can only be maintained over short runs in any case.
Cassettes are cheap to produce in low volumes and let the marketers sell a high quality product from outside the
mainstream for a fraction of the studio price.

They are also doing very well. Allan West of Anthem Records in Sydney says independent tapes comparatively outsell everything in the shop. Virginia Moncrieff of Sydney radio station 2JJJ says tapes are now selling neck and neck with records and may even have a slight edge particularly in hot places where tapes are a more lasting buy than records.

A locally produced independent cassette retails for as little as $2.95 for four tracks, comparing favourably with singles at $2.50 for two tracks. But it is not yet what you could call an industry. The cassette makers are dealing basically in a submarket and profit is not the sole or even major motivation for an lot of the marketers.

The resurgence in interest in cassettes as a recording medium was exemplified in the marketing by ex Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren of the group Bow Wow Wow as a cassette band. Last year Bow Wow Wow put out an cassette called C30 C60 C90 Go! an ode to the wonders up hometaping. With lyrics like “C30 C60 C90 Go/ Off the radio I get a constant flow/ Cos I hit it! pause it! record it and play/ Or turn it rewind it and rub it away/” the irony was not lost on EMI which released the cassette and has watched home taping cut heavily into its record sales. Bow Wow Wow’s releases have appeared on vinyl records at the same time, as even as cassette band cannot ignore the saleability of the pretty graphics on record covers.

In Britain the tape movement was spurred on by a very popular sampler of new music put together on cassette by the influential rock newspaper New Musical Express and the independent record label Rough Trade. The NME/Rough Trade C81 as it was called consisted of 24 tracks and 81 minutes of new music for about $A4.70. Although cassettes like The C81 may be cheap in the UK, by the time they reach Australia air freight and the sales tax placed on imported prerecorded tapes to protect the home market have boosted the retail price to $14.

In Australia however Terse Tapes run by Tom Ellard from his home in Sydney’s Balmoral Beach put out in 1980 a C60 guide to the best of British cassette bands for $3.00 simply by having the bands send over contributions.

The trend to cassetting in this country is not just a cultural implant. Indeed Australia has been noted for its innovation in the area. Virginia Moncrieff says an Australian parallel with Bow Wow Wow was the popular Sydney band the Sunnyboys who released their first single on both Cassette and record. The tape released through Festival even had a few more tracks on it.

“But though say 800 may be sold of this release only 400 will be taken into account by the record companies because cassettes do not count in the record charts. That is why so little emphasis is given to their marketing and quality” she says.

The most publicised tape group in Australia would have to be the alliteratively titled “tantalising taster of tape and type” Fast Forward Cassette Magazine. FF was started last December by radio announcers Bruce Milne and Andy Maine from Melbourne radio station 3RRR and has had excellent press and promising sales. According to Andy Maine Australia’s first regular cassette magazine is not losing money and is even making some though not a great deal. “We did not set out to make a fortune though obviously there is money-making potential there.”

Invitingly packaged in a slimline plastic pouch designed by Michael Trudgeon, the third member of the FF group,for $3.99 the listener/reader receives about 60 minutes of previously unreleased music interviews. chit chat and humour along with giveaways like crosswords and photocopies, an information sheet with photographs, contact addresses, lyrics and biographies.
The material is both local and overseas and issue six provides a comprehensive guide to amateur cassetting.

The main drawing point of the package however appears to be the previously unreleased recordings of bands. According to Malcolm Crane of the Sydney import record shop The Record Plant,”it is difficult to see people replay the chat sections, though you do not usually re-read printed magazine articles either. Issue six sold mainly because of the inclusion of stuff by the band Hunters and Collectors.”

Most of the new independents with limited audiences use mail ordering and manufacture as demand goes to keep costs down. Miscellaneous Musick from Wollongong founded by Christella Pink. has so far released 63 cassettes through mailorder.

In an interview with Wollongong fan magazine Check One Two she said it was the only tape library in Australia that could sell for less than $2.00. The fact that Check One Two is a “Fanzine” put out by a couple of Wollongong school kids says a lot about what marketers would call the positioning of the cassette market and the degree of credibility cassette music has won among its consumers.

Wollongong also produced the now defunct TwoTapes company but it is soon to reappear as another tape company called That’s Life which will sell C90 tapes for $5.00. Its producer Tim Vanderberg said the tapes will be of exceptionally high quality as masters will be made on metal cassettes which have a higher quality sound than vinyl.

The Sydney import record shop The Record Plant said it literally had independent tapes arriving on its doorstep all the time. One such arrival was a tape sent by the Queensland band Xiro with four tracks priced at $3.00. While The Record Plant says it knows nothing of the band. Xiro’s two tapes Religious Wars and Half the Profits sold half their stock. Malcolm Crane says this is not bad at all for an independent.

Allan West at Sydney’s Anthem Records estimates that it would cost about $85 to have a master copy of a record pressed and then about S300 to have 250 copies pressed not counting the cost of record covers, distribution and royalties to the band. The cost of a vinyl pressing becomes cheaper as more copies are produced, but tapes hold an obvious attraction for bands who can afford to record but not to put out a limited edition single.

The retailers of the new independent tapes say that while it may be easier to make money on cassette recording – all that is needed is two tape decks – they do not seem to have the selling power. “With a cassette you cannot pick it up and spin it on the record player. It just does not have the same physical presence as a record”, Allan West says.

Some tape artists have opted for the safer path of conventional distribution through a record company, but even in this case it is usually an independent. M Squared, a Sydney based independent record company is producing tapes but only as an adjunct to its vinyl releases. An M Squared recorded cassette called B Songs by Mark 2 and released through Underworld Tapes is a professionally produced, eight track cassette retailing at $2.95. Much of the M Squared material however is distributed by mail order.

Similarly in Adelaide Girl/Boy. a recently formed tape company will have its releases produced, distributed and promoted through larger concerns like the independent record company Missing Link in Melbourne.

Michael Green of Gaslight Records in Melbourne pointed out that small independent cassettes like M Squared sold well in the shops though he said this was mainly due to a loyal clientele. Allan West said “We only stock the local cassettes, the ones that are not available on albums. We used to have no tapes at all but its now grown to about twenty different titles. “The market for cassettes is expanding slowly and from the producers point of view a week or running off 60 copies of a cassette has got to be cheaper than vinyl pressings.”

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the independent tapes is their marketing. In England. Bow Wow Wow released a tape called Your Cassette Pet in an cute little fliptop pack. The NME Rough Trade C81 also had a nod in the direction of attractive packaging with the inclusion of a 32 page C81 owner’s manual.

Bruce Milne of Fast Forward believes that the reason that cassettes have traditionally had such poor sales in the past was their boring packaging. “We thought, why not make it exciting. There are so many things you can do. So we went to plastic: and tin factories and even thought of putting the cassette in a sardine tin. “We are always thinking of changing and at the moment I would like to develop the booklet and include more photos and make il an entity in itself.” Andy Maine says that the end of the year will see a longer FF with a corresponding price rise.

Tom Ellard of Terse Tapes however believes the packaging of cassette should not be an issue at all, conceeding though that consumers love running their fingers through the package.
In the past Terse Tapes have been sparsely presented in sandwich sized plastic bags containing two photocopied information sheets. Ellard has now reverted to the traditional casssette box which other independents use.

Christella Pink says that Miscellaneous Musick is a tape company because the low costs “allow greater freedom with art and music.” To some in the tape fraternity however, the lack of profit geared constraints has meant that the output of the independent tape companies tends towards the esoteric and elite.

FF has however broadened its scope and plans to include in future issues recordings and graphics by the English band The Cure, and roc German electronic outfit Kraftwerk. Both bands were impressed with FF product and according to Milne “Jumped at the chance to contribute.”

FF’s emergence into the mainstream has been due, according to Tom Ellard, to it being bland enough lo go into every home, a point that Andy Milne agrees with. Lauded by the American and English rock press FF received perhaps its highest accolade when it was given a plug by Ian Meldrum on the ABCs Countdown.

The changes in music retailing that these cassette marketers foreshadow imply that recordings on vinyl or tape are unlikely to become more homogenous. Certainly for sections of the market flexibility, low overheads and the ability to move very quickly are becoming more important. The result may be than the music industry itself will end up a very different beast.

Aged Cheese

The vinyl remake of Eighties Cheesecake is out and about for SIXTEEN BUCKS.

http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/tom-ellard-80s-cheesecake-lp-out-now/

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If you’re thinking, hey that cover looks like a cassette sleeve, it’s because it’s the original cassette sleeve. Unfolded and blown up to 12 inches. It was going to be the CD cover for a while but – Hell I dunno, but this is what museums do to us all, they make everything “authentic”.

So I need to explain the track listing. This went back and forward a few times. First it had to come down from a C60 length. Then I wanted to replace some of the tracks I didn’t like with some I did, but then the label wanted the ones I didn’t like and the new ones as well and that wouldn’t fit and then we took some off and put them on the Dead Eyes Opened B side because that was authentic, really. So it’s quite a mixture of reasons for what you get, all of them good reasons, if a little roundabout.

I did mention before that there some refurbished tracks on the LP. It’s all from the sessions in which I made the two cassettes, Snappy Carrion and Eighties Cheesecake. But sometimes I would make a decision about mixing or editing which turned out bad, and given the majority of it was bounced around a 4 track (or just two cassette decks) the bad decision could be disaster for an otherwise good track. Bummer.

In 1985 when I backed up everything to digital, I kept all the parts. When I started to reassemble the material in 2013, the technology allowed some quite nifty repairs to be made. Noises that should never have been added (oh god that shitty attempt at a syndrum!) could be removed, either by microedits, filtration or just a whole day of cutting and pasting from the raw sources. And noises that should be there could then be added on top as nature intended it – like The East Is Red.

The tracks 303B The East Is Red, The Ritualistic and Babies are all refurbished and there was one more that didn’t make it on. Some of you would have heard bits of these of the years, but not as complete as they are here.

But is this a George Lucas moment? Of course! Unless you’re listening on a SONY cassette tape – well it’s just wrong isn’t it.

Self Review

I have lived with copies of our old albums for a short time now and have formed an impression of them, and would care to report this.

The difficulty being that, not having a working turntable, I am not able to describe what they sound like. But I can rely on reports.

If it were a boiled lolly, Since The Accident would be a humbug. City Slab Horror is supposed to be bone coloured, but is obviously butterscotch.

Bt742wCCUAA9rJB

I would imagine that when the vinyl was black on Since The Accident it would sound infinitesimally different to when it was white. If one was very particular, this would be disturbing about once every second. For most people they would not be particularly worried. I watch it spin and would like it to spin much faster, so as to make colours, but this is not possible.

When you buy a copy, you have to put the record into the sleeve. This last step probably prevents it from using batteries until you’re ready to switch it on. Or it’s to connect you with the physicality of the object. Or something.

The records are heavy. I stood and held one for quite some time, feeling the weight. It weights much more than a 1970’s RCA space age pressing which were designed to be incredibly light and flexible, because that was the best idea. They weight a little less than the Eastern European press-them-like-tractors because that was the best idea. Maybe these are a red sports car.

We played it at a radio station here in Sydney and I was pleased that the music was in fact ours. When we made our first album back in 1979, EMI put an album by the Bushwackers Band there by accident. We thought a while and then told them. It was a near thing.

proxy

I have been told that the quality is very good. It should be, given that it’s actually from the master. There is a sticker on the front that claims I have remastered these albums. That’s not true. I did nothing except reproduce the recordings properly. That’s why the sound is better.

In ‘The Wire’ magazine they have reviewed these records as ‘a blueprint for a possible musical future’. Given that we are in that future I was curious to see if the reviewer was game to make a comparison between the blueprint and the reality. He did not. He did mention Aphex Twin which reminded me I was reading The Wire. But I worry now about how you can talk about being prescient after the fact. It’s like a time travel paradox.

It’s a good review actually because the writer describes how uncomfortable we were between the polarities of pop and opposition. Like whatever we did was never going to satisfy somebody who wants totality. If you wanted a theme that described Severed Heads that’s it right there and so if the reviewer is hearing that, these are good records.

Now I really should buy a new stylus.

Purchase desirable physical objects of limited manufacture.

dead
Dead Eyes Opened replica vinyl. Click on the image.
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Since The Accident replica vinyl. Click on this image.
MR035_300
City Slab Horror replica vinyl. Click on this image.

These objects may be possessed for a small fee. Other objects that may soon be possessed in a similar fashion are:

Eighties Cheesecake. Status: delayed for artwork revisions.

Ear Bitten. Status: in planning. Expected in 2015.

Clean. Status: in planning. Expected in 2015.

The comparison.
The comparison.

Terse Tapes then and now.

You’ve seen all the old pictures. How about some new pictures? TERSE TAPES was brutally murdered around 1998. But it rises again, starting right where it was stopped, as if the war never happened.

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The famous BOOFHEAD as seen on stages all over North America. Like all Ensoniq equipment of that period it is built out of pure brick shithouse. It still holds patches from Rotund For Success, and will punch you if you dare erase them.

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There underneath the ReVox is a Roland Luxury Yacht, which was too cool in about 2000. No sound is too chorused for this opulent box. Note the authentic SCSI drive. Beneath is a very battered S612 sampler, not the same battered sampler as was used on Big Bigot. A near relative with the same neurosis. The mixer is sitting on an Alesis ADAT which hasn’t seen the sun for many years.

korgs

When they do a Star Trek reboot reboot, they are welcome to film ‘Mount Knobs’. Here are all the twiddles a man could desire. From front to rear – the Roland SH32 will never win prizes for looks, but certainly for bloops. The KORG Radias is the slick silver grandchild of the old MS years and a great Xmas decoration. The blue box is a JP8080 and yes, supersaw but not always. And a virtual PolySix, which (it should not surprise you) recognises the knobs on the Radias.

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A small part of the post modern world sneaks into frame, as a Blofeld sits atop of ‘Yamaha Peak’. The two groove boxes below house faux Prophet-5 and faux DX-7 cards. Prop them up on decorative plate holders and voilà – the knobs are in reach of the engine driver. The Blofeld is about to get a nasty shock when a V-Synth XT rack gets plunked above. Like a Mopho hidden at back, it’s driven from elsewhere.

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And here is the nerve centre of the whole enterprise. Tiny keys for tiny fingers. A Micron is caged under a MiniNova, it too is run from elsewhere and will have to put up with being second fiddle. The scary thing is that there is more than this, too high or deep to see.

All of it is being used right now to make a new recording…

Vinyl is back from the factory. No one died.

MR035_300

Reports that the Slab album is back from the factory, it plays, it sounds good, and no-one died. Looks like both labels are near to laying eggs and so I will link you straight to their evil empires:

For Since The Accident and City Slab Horror please proceed to http://medical-records.org/

For the Dead Eyes Opened 12 inch please proceed to http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/

Some people are worried about the digital downloads – all of these recordings have been available for quite some time as downloads – so long that it seems sensible to close them for a while and let the poor bastards sell the records. You do not want to condemn people to cardboard boxes for the rest of time do you? When they get sick of us they will hand the downloads back again. Fair.

Now, both labels are thinking about what they might do next. What should they do next?

EAR BITTEN

I don’t own a copy of EAR BITTEN. I think I had my last copy stolen 1990 something or other.

A side effect of asking Twitter for scans of the front cover  – some of the inserts have resurfaced. This one came from Phantom Circuit. I haven’t seen this in ages. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.insert 4a

We got some nice scans of the cover too, so we’re looking into some T Shirts of ear bitten LP

EAR BITTEN isn’t being reissued but it’s fun to see some of the old images again. This cover was scanned by John Laidler, one of the artists that was on the other side of the album as Rythmyx Chympx. That’s a real close-of-cycle right there.