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I don't condone the actions of bootleggers - any more that I do those of the official record-companies themselves - as both industries tend to leave the musician and the consumer ripped-off. Had equitable licensing and distribution arrangements for all recorded works been in place, I could have paid for official releases of much better-quality material - and would probably be pursuing a career as a professional recording artist, myself.

I've started collecting 'bootleg' albums over 20 years ago, when they were openly sold in selected shops in Sydney. I had a simple reason to do this - as a budding guitarist, I wanted to hear how Led Zeppelin played they songs live, when their recordings were so full of overdubs. I also keen to hear how they extended their performances by using improvisation. As these were honest intentions, and I was still young at the time, I have no guilt about collecting these albums. My only regret is that I sold perhaps the best of them - 'Going to California' - without realising how good it was (even the CD I saw in New York missed out on 'Dazed and Confused'). Though it has the same song-list as CD2 of 'BBC Sessions', I certainly know which concert I'd prefer listening to.


The word 'bootleg' means different things to different people. Strictly speaking it refers to any form of recording that is not presented in a form that you can buy on an official label from your local music store. This means that it extends (here in Australia at least) to otherwise -official but 'cheap' imports of recordings from other countries. However, as the term is popularly used, it refers to distribution and sale of three main type of material:

- Live Recordings, where someone has sat in the audience with a tape recorder, or somehow obtained a copy of the 'soundboard' feed from a live appearance by a band or artist. Sound quality in the first case can vary from good to unlistenable, while in the second case can often tend to sound rather 'dry' and lifeless (since the crowd ambience is not included).
- Shows taped from FM broadcasts of officially-recorded concerts. As this type of broadcast is (literally) almost unheard of in Australia, I can't comment too much about it.
- Studio out-takes, that the distributor has somehow gotten hold of (sometimes by outright theft). This will cover rehearsals, jams, alternate recordings and/or mixes, and so on. Recording quality varies from excellent (considering its source) to abysmal (if it is a copy of a tape of an album of... etc.).

With the rise of CD-ROMS and CD-R recording in computers, the bootlegging practice also extends to copy and distributing songs and even whole albums - either on CD or over the 'net as individual songs. The ability to save songs as .WAV files also means that over 10 CDs worth of material can be stored on a CD-ROM, though these can't be played on an ordinary CD-player (MP3 files are even smaller, though the sound quality suffers). Although these types of practices are set to expand greatly, I don't want to confuse the discussion by going off on a tangent here.


Although these definitions remain fixed, there are special cases to be considered when looking at the works of certain bands or artists. These alter the value of the content and/or the amount of 'illegality' involved:

- For their formative influence on the values of society, the works of the Beatles hold a special appeal. This is reflected in the thousands of bootleg albums and CDs that have been released over the years. For those who are old (and open-minded) enough, the sound of a particularly rare recording of the fab four has an appeal that can't be expressed in words; LedZep
- For their defining influence on the formation and sound of thousands of successors, Led Zeppelin hold a similar appeal. Their ability to project their energy into shows that could run over three hours is, in itself, a rare talent that many could learn from. And, on the studio side, it's intersting to see how classic songs like 'Stairway to Heaven' evolved.
- An increasing number of artists now will either turn a blind eye to, or openly allow or encourage, audience taping. This is in recognition of a number of things. Firstly, the fact that people want to relive not just any performance, but the one that they attended. Secondly, each performance by an artist is unique, no matter how often the material is played. Thirdly, in the case of improvising musicians, there may be a number of unique elements that cannot and will not be repeated in future.


For a number of reasons - particularly (in Australia) changes to the law and (in America) crackdowns on the industry - the heady days of the off-line, shopfront bootleg industry are practically over. There is even almost no reference to bootleg CDs being offered for sale on the internet. If only the same thing applied to pornography.

What you can find is people talking about the recordings they have made or obtained - and, in some cases, swapping tapes, WAVs, MP3s and CD-Rs on a one-to-one basis. I can't say a lot about this, since I haven't done much swapping myself, but there are extensive lists of instructions on some of the following links that describe the process in painstaking detail. There are also many newsgroups and personal sites devoted to carrying "unofficial" recordings - though these mainly involve music that is illegally copied from commercially-available CDs and LPs.


Details of the bootleg CDs that I currently have are contained on my CD Collection page. There is also some scant detail on that page about the bootleg LPs that I have (as I haven't catalogued my LP collection). warning

In addition, I have a small selection of original audience recordings that I've made of international acts. These are made on (and occasionally copied from) mono micro-cassette tapes - I haven't tried to use my Sony MiniDisc Recorder, and my Sony ICD-37 Recorder (pictures right) won't record for long enough. The tapes are mostly of jazz-fusion artists - Billy Cobham, Frank Gambale, Mike Stern with Dave Weckl, Mike Stern with Denis Chambers, Arturo Sandoval, Chad Wackerman, Vital Information, the Dave Weckl Band, Bill Evans' Soul Insiders and one or two others (also Plant/Page). Sound quality is bad to worse. Don't expect me to start trading in these - I make them to "relive" otherwise-expensive memories and to keep up with modern instrumental technique. Also note that I don't make it a practice of taping all the bands that I see.

For the venue owners who've suffered the indignity of being subject to my recording experiments I can only say "give me a chance to play there - to get your own back". I am, however, pleased that Sydney's prime jazz venue - The Basement - has finally got the hint and installed their own recording gear - mainly for internet broadcasts, though, since it still isn't easy to officially produce and release sound recordings on CD.


NOTE: Information that was in this section of the page has been transferred to the my Original CD-Rs.

ARTISTS & COLLECTIONS - NOTE: most of the links below are now "dead" (I have more on my home computer).




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URL: http://homepages.tig.com.au/~avanstar
Alex Van Starrex