Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How The Internet Killed The Bootlegging Industry

I’ve been collecting music for many, many years. Long before the Internet made it much easier to identify and sample new bands and what albums were coming out, I had to attend record shows or visit my local record store. It was at these shows, or in these stores that I would learn what bootlegs of my favorite bands were available. However, that knowledge came at a price. A Kiss concert from 1977 at Budo Kahn Hall? I had to have it. Queen live in England? Give it to me, no matter the cost. A Bruce Springsteen reunion show? Add it to my collection. Unfortunately, all of these bootleg albums came at a price, and it was never very cheap.

Then came the internet boom. At first, it was a great way to get even more bootlegs. Ebay auctioned them off in droves. There were full sites dedicated to Springsteen and other classic rock band bootlegs. And while DMB fans and Pearl Jam fans would “trade” you a bootleg for B&Ps (blanks and postage), it took forever to hear back from the guy who had the bootleg. And it always felt like even though he/she was helping, they appeared to be a little self righteous because they had the concert you wanted and they could answer you on their terms and their time. There were always endless cries of “newbies, please only request one concert at a time!” Like they were so cool because they had the concert and you didn’t. I particularly didn’t like being called a “newbie.” I had been collecting for years, and just because they were fortunate enough to be able to get a copy of a particular concert I had attended did not make me a “newbie”. It made me a fan.

Record shows weren’t any better. Bootleggers would sell concert CD sets anywhere from $35 - $60 per set. They would claim superior audio quality and how this was a landmark show that we had to add to our collection. And as a huge fan of certain bands (notably Kiss and Springsteen), I had to have these shows. I already owned all of the studio albums. A disc of unreleased rarities had to be added to my collection.

When the internet boom finally took over and almost every home in America had access to high speed internet, things changed. Large file sharing became easier, especially with sites like Megaupload and Rapidshare. And while this also opened the door for illegal downloading of studio albums (something I am totally against), it also opened the door for all of those concerts that I had paid top dollar for, to be added to my collection, for free. The bootleggers and self-righteous collectors didn’t control the outcome anymore. The personal collector did. With a quick scan of Google, we could now find any concert that we ever attended or wanted in a matter of minutes. And in an instant, it could be added to our collection, for free. Bootleggers became less and less and the sites dedicated to selling you those bootleg concerts, they are borderline extinct.

While I’m sure there are plenty of mixed feelings about bootleg concerts, I can’t help myself. If I attended the concert, I want a copy of it. If I adore the band and I own all of their “officially released” albums, I have to have the disc of rare demos. That’s what being a fan is all about. If the band released it officially, I would still buy it. I bought Kiss’ Carnival Of Souls when it was officially released, even though I already owned it on CD and cassette from bootleggers. But, not everyone is like that, and I understand this.

Now with satellite radio, we can even hear bootleg concerts on the airwaves. Rolling Stone magazine has a bootleg column in every issue that tells what concerts we should be searching for. It’s a great way to celebrate our favorite artists. And while it may have brought down the profitability of an illegal industry, I feel no remorse. I don’t think there was ever a need for bootleggers to charge the criminal fees they did. These days, I don’t even need them. A quick search of the internet leads to me all of the concerts I could ever want. And that makes me a very happy collector.

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