How Entertainment is a Rip Off

Saturday, 3 February 2007

[Picture of Vinyl LPs]ENTERTAINMENT is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? So where did it all go wrong?

I was recently amazed to discover that it is a copyright infringement to rip a CD that you own so that you can listen to it on an MP3 player. I just DARE the authorities to come and get me for this!

This is a moan about how much time and money I have been forced to spend over the years, and now, looking back, I don’t see that it was worthwhile; I seem to have given far more than I have received. It has been a struggle to keep up with technology: better quality, better formats, and so it has been going, until recently things have started to DIE — goodbye to the videocassette, cheerio to the floppy disc.

Back when I was a schoolkid, it was even more complicated than today; we would bring in LPs to borrow and lend (primitive file sharing).

[Pictur of Bush portable radio’ [picture of radio]The reason for this was because there were a few TV stations with next-to-no music, and a handful of hissy whistling medium wave and long wave radio stations. During the most productive and innovative period in history for music, how else were we to keep up?

[Picture of a reel to reel machine]Of these borrowed LPs, some were recorded onto magnetic tape and played back on a reel-to-reel or ‘8-track’, but most were recorded onto standard cassette tapes.

You see, a vinyl disc record could warp just by being near the sun, a radiator, or even the heat from an amplifier. They were fragile and expensive — they wore out through over-playing, and easily ruined by dust and grease from fingers and palms, and they scratched ‘jumped’ unless you let them play through from start to finish every time. Basically, then, each time you bought a record, you had to buy a blank tape — as a ‘back up’ insurance policy.

[Picture of Cassettes]On top of that, when we became old enough to drive, we could get a ‘Cassette Radio’ fitted in the car — so it made sense to tape a new LP merely to listen to on the move — and unlike the MW/ LW radio, the taped music didn’t fade out when you went under a bridge or between two mountains. Then Sony invented The Walkman — a brilliant device, except that you had the problem of how to carry around other cassettes/cases.

[Picture of a walkman]I suppose we could have bought the official cassette release, instead of illegal taping, but we were too skint to be able to cope with the sheer amount of music we were listening to, and there simply was no other way to disseminate music other than sharing by taping.

Another thing about LPs and Cassettes was the ability to make personal COMPILATION tapes for the car, for a party or to impress someone special. They took hours and were a labour of love. When I think about it now, I see that the whole thing was pretty social — the sharing that taping provided, the companionship in record stores and at concerts, ah, bliss!

The bands did OK financially whatever the case; we would inevitably chew up the tape and scratch the LP, so if we really liked the music, we would have to buy it again and again — and we did go to see the artistes in concert as a result of knowing their recorded music so well.

[Picture of 8 track player]I pitied those who made the WRONG CHOICES — who bought LPs, backed them up to reel-to-reel tapes, and then got a car with an ‘Eight Track player’ fitted instead of a cassette player — they would have to buy various formats of the same product.

When videocassettes arrived, some people went for the better quality V2000 or Betamax formats. But the most popular was the VHS single sided videocassette, and the courts decided it was all legal for fair use. There was not a lot of product available, so we taped The Old Grey Whistle Test, The Tube, and the occasional Live at Montreaux or other special concert from broadcast TV.

  • [Picture of a videocassette (VHS)]Video was crap at being copied — the quality deteriorated a lot each time, and the audio quality was always poor, so taped pop videos or concerts were not for sharing, and not as good as audio formats. The tape (like audio cassettes) would chew up from time to time, and even the TV was unreliable — and there would be a lot of antenna adjusting to get a good picture.

So, even though music was copied, the entertainment business did well — we bought the same product in various formats (and the same format) again and again, and of course, we bought machines to play and record all these formats.

[Picture of music centre]Discs that played at 78 rpm became out of date in favour of the LP at 33-and-a-third rpm. Iron Oxide magnetic tape was available in various time lengths — c60 (sixty minutes), c90 (ninety minutes) etc. Better quality tape followed; Chromium dioxide and other ‘Metal’ coatings along with Dolby A and Dolby B noise reduction systems.

[Picture of Hi Fi stacked]Turntables were direct drive or belt drive, and Hi fidelity was about less motor noise, constant platten rotation, wow and flutter, special metal alloys for the stylus head-shell, fancy stylii with diamonds and other precious stones, and woofers, tweeters and horns galore. We bought dansettes, gramophones, phonograms, HiFi separates, music centres, ghetto-blasters, stacked separates and midi Hi Fi systems that were remote controlled.

[Picture of a gramophone] [Picture of radiogram] [Picture of a dansette ‘portable’ record player] [Picture of Midi system]

[Picture of Minidisc][Picture of CD Walkman] Then came Minidiscs, Laserdiscs, CDs, DVDs and now it’s a fight between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, not to mention file formats like MP3 and WAV. The replacement for the Sony Walkman was the Discman — a portable CD player — and like the Walkman, there was the problem of other CDs and cases, unlike the Walkman, however, the CD Walkman or Discman jumped — and this was also the case for car CD players, so the MP3 is the answer — the sound quality of the CD, but like the cassette in that it didn’t jump and you could make compilations. Some changes work better than others, and not all improvements are better in certain circumstances and for certain uses.

[Picture of some CD discs]So what are we supposed to do? Each time the entertainment industry decides to bring out a better quality product are we supposed to upgrade? Every time the entertainment industry decides to make a new format are we supposed to buy all our music again? What about OUR needs and wants as the customer, as the consumer?

  • It is such a shame that I cannot listen to the party compilations I taped all those years ago, and even if I hold onto my vinyl collection, where would I be able to buy a new stylus for my record player?

All those hours gone, all that money spent. What a waste.

Analogue is old, digital is new and good. Digital phones, wireless, cordless, DECT, cell, mobile, hybrid, skype, hidef, HD — all jargon and buzzwords — basically, we are throwing away our TV sets, everything has to be replaced. Even CRT computer monitors are going flat LCD.

[Picture of a swiss army knife mp3 player!]So I do not feel one bit guilty about ripping my own CDs. I bought them, and many of them were to replace the LPs I also still own. No way am I joining itunes to pay to download them again. Stuff that. Instead of taping an LP as a back up, I now buy a CD and rip it to MP3. So much changes, so much remains the same.

What about Live Music? (I hear you ask).

[Picture of tickets]Well, what about it? The old venues have gone now, the new ones are sanitised with a surgically removed atmosphere. There’s no smoking or drinking from an open vessel allowed in any public place anywhere in the whole country now. The new venues are vast and twee. It’s just not rock’n’roll. It’s not jazz.

[Picture of portaloos at concert]There is a fee on top of the ticket price, and it is very expensive. Artistes strive to sound exactly like their recordings, so there’s little point in going along. There is a lot of pre-recorded stuff, direct miming, and very little heart and soul. Heroes and innovators of the 1970s are still touring! I just do not get it!

[Picture of festival]For some unknown reason festivals are all-the-rage these days — T-in-the-Park and so forth. Muddy fields, clogged portaloo cubicles, burger vans and drugged teenagers shagging in tents while crap indie pop bands jangle through yet another falsetto’d dirge. And it’s far from cheap at that. Er, no thanks.

[Picture of digital dab radio]We bought a digital Radio so that we could get away from this diet of pop — all the AM/FM stations have the same pop play-list, although there is also Techno Dance as well! The only thing close to useful on TV is Later with Jools Holland on BBC. The heyday of Bob Harris, John Peel, and Alexis Korner is long gone, and we are left to our own devices — but we are no longer at school swapping LPs. So we use Pandora, You Tube and The New Grey Whistle Test; we have to. But they seem to be intent on closing these down.

I watched VH1 and MTV years ago at mates’ houses, and I was struck at the narrowness of the play-lists. I am not a huge fan of what-they-now-call R’n’B, Hip Hop, Rap, soul or indie guitar pop, so these channels hold nothing of interest for me. When in Italy, I put the local music channels on, but it’s not long before I have heard each song a zillion times.

Satellite and Cable channels annoy me — no foreign options, and a lot of repeats. To watch at all, I have to first get mentally prepared.

I cannot understand spectator sports — sport is something to do not watch. A football season ticket is expensive, and watching live can be dangerous. It’s really not worth it, and to be honest, it’s pretty boring most of the time. And where’s the incentive to change? The clubs know fans are loyal whatever they do, whatever the result. Football is even worse than religion; people have been known to switch religions!

So many cinemas, so many screens, yet the same handful of films. Where are the classics? Where are the foreign and art-house films, the cutting edge? Films are quick to go to Satellite and then to the hire market (DVD), so the cinema is a special occasion because it is so expensive.

Of all the entertainment that is available, I think the Internet is the best; it can be sociable, it can be interactive, it can be absorbing. It’s whatever you want it to be. The downside is that it is always upgrading and changing — new formats, viruses, spam, hackers, ID theft and so forth. However, unlike so many other forms of entertainment, the downsides can be outweighed by the fun and education it provides. This is because it is sociable — whether it be a game played, a photo shared or an e-mail sent, and you are in control (there’s no DJ, play-list or TV programming list).

Let’s face it: we cannot drink and drive, and smoking is out — so pubs are less than what they once were. We cannot dine often in fancy restaurants because we are all on diets. Concerts are rare because artistes favour summer festivals, there’s no variety shows (magicians, comedians etc) anymore, few house parties, and not very much in the way of local events, parades, gatherings and whatnot (e.g. Christmas Carols are not PC anymore).

In summary, I think that what I have realised, and what I am trying to say here is that entertainment asks a lot of us. It’s very expensive and far too complicated, but worst of all is that it seems to be turning us into criminals.

5 Responses to “How Entertainment is a Rip Off”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    wav and mp3 are not competing formats. While there are a few formats, it’s overwhelmingly split between MP3 and wma. Ogg Vorbis is also pretty big, and FLAC for the purist. But the majority is MP3.

    Video has a variety of codecs though.

    CRTs for computers are being phased out, but they’re better than the LCDs phasing them out in general.

    “where would I be able to buy a new stylus for my record player?”
    Obviously, online.
    Record players are still big in the DJ sector and are pretty easy to find around.
    Once you get a record player you can rip to digital format and you’d have a copy you play over and over of all the old music you have.

    Also, no one forces you to re-buy things, sometimes just taking care of the media goes a very long way.

    • Frank Says:

      Are you serious? A stylus online? As if it were just that easy. Sure DJs still “play” vinyl, but they use shit. That stuff is not Hi Fidelity, DJs actually touch the surface of the record, something us audiophiles cannot abide! I have a house full of discarded headshells and cartridges that I can no longer get stylii for. Times have changed and moved on, and that is the entire point: I have spent thousands trying to be a collector, a connoisseur, and investor. I have half-speed masters and precious rare bootlegs, and I seriously cannot play them, and I seriously would not use a shit nightclub DJ stylus thankyouvery much!!!!

  2. Brandon Says:

    Here’s an article from The Skinny by Greg of one time Scottish Soul poppers Hue and Cry that make interesting reading:

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