I grew up knowing this – the dual cassette player was an amazing achievement. This machine meant you could copy tapes and share music freely. Your friend has Guns n’ Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’? With a blank Maxell cassette you can have it too. Want to make a tape of your favorite songs? Go for it.
This was peer to peer sharing before the internet. It was tangible. Hand-crafted thievery. Since I was young it was more than that. Unlimited. We could record the audio from the television. From the radio. Bang on a drum, record that. It was immediately satisfying.
My first band was in high school. We dealt in hardcore punk. Slightly metal pre-emo emo. We played around the Bay Area, caravanning through Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. Our drummer’s garage was our recording studio and Kinko’s was our print shop. You could make your own fliers and stickers right there in store. They had the gear, you just had bring the images.
Around 1993 I started recording at home on a Tascam Portastudio. Again, cassettes. Four tracks of noise. Stop when you feel like you have something. An album. A completed idea. Head to Walgreens for blank tapes then off to Kinko’s to design and print some covers. Cut and fold them right there and you’re done. An album.
In my garage is a box of cassettes. There are a handful that I had made covers and stickers for. Lyric sheets and 8.5 by 11 black and white posters. I don’t remember making them exactly but this is a moment of self indulgent myth making.
Those tapes, when I play them now, they sound like my father’s house. I hear my restaurant jobs and the long walk to school. My first girlfriend’s living room. My acne. They are not good in the way that the mainstream calls music good, but what I can say and know it’s the truth is that it all sounds like me.
I still make stuff and these days it’s even easier to do it. So much is available to the willing DIY musician / artist/ craftsian from your computer. Garage Band, Logic, Sound Forge, and Pro Tools is now your four track. PhotoShop replaces Kinko’s and instead of making tapes you can make your own CDs and give them out. Part of the DIY punk culture was to be your own record label and do your own distribution. With digital distribution sites like CD Baby and Tunecore the same person that made the music can be in control getting the music out to iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic.
I love to see original art put out there by the people who made it. Be it an illustrator like Jerrod Maruyama or a photographer like Highcastle, I get excited to see an artist doing it themselves. In my recent internet ramblings I found a band that, beyond making great music, makes some great homemade packaging as well. The band Vows put out a record called ‘Winter’s Grave’ and once I saw the packaging I immediately felt a kinship to it – the lost craft of making something, perhaps slightly imperfect, but personal.
The CD itself came in a silkscreened piece of canvas.
On the inside was a folded piece of colored and Xeroxed paper, complete with paint splattered insert. Let’s see Justin Bieber do something even slightly this cool and interesting.
QUICKNESS: I bought this directly from the band’s shop without hearing a second of the music, which should be noted is pretty great. Radiohead styled folk. Top notch. Check it out if HERE.
It’s exciting to see packaging like this. Truly handmade and personal to those that created it. People often tell me how they wish they could play an instrument or write or draw or just make something and I don’t tell them this (but sometimes I do) the only thing stopping them from creating is themselves. Just do it. No one is stopping you.
You know who wrote your favorite book or took your favorite photograph? A person. That’s it. It’s us. People make stuff and you can too.