back when it wasn't so easy to be a music fan

photo from this blog

Seeing kids these days with their tiny, candy-colored MP3 players, I can't help but appreciate how much easier it is to be a music fan today. Things used to be a lot more complicated, and er, primitive when I was young.

The main source of music back then was mainstream radio. If you felt like being cooler, you plugged into the alternative stations so you knew tunes that not many people have heard yet.

If you carried around a huge boom box, that was an inconvenience but still considered pretty cool.

The Sony Walkman was a more clever invention.

Back then, you didn't have Frostwire or iTunes. You didn't have the convenience of buying music online or downloading shareware. You listened to the radio and waited for your favorite songs to come up, and when that happened, you cranked up the volume to enjoy it. You had to suffer the random selection of the disk jockey though - an odd hodge-podge of NKOTB, Garth Brooks, Bon Jovi, Megadeth, Paula Abdul and Boyz II Men in one hour.

The only way you could affect the line-up on radio was to phone, page or fax the station. The convenience of SMS sending was yet unheard of.

Dial ... busy.
Redial ... still busy.
Redial ...

As you considered the volume of listeners trying to get their requests in, you kept your fingers crossed. If you succeeded in contacting the station, depending on the timing, you might have to join one of their dorky contests. You greeted your friends while you were at it, of course. Afterward, you would put down the phone and wait for your song - only for the DJ to turn over to the next shift. A new DJ would come in and he wouldn'tt even know about your request, so you had to go through the trouble of phoning in again.

You shelled out a hundred bucks or so (which would be around two to four days' worth of allowance for the average, middle-classs kid of the late '80s / early '90s) to buy a cassette tape which probably had only one or two tracks that you liked.

And yeah, I just remembered - they weren't called "tracks" ... I don't even know what they were called.

You couldn't press next track when you got bored with something unbearable; you couldn't shuffle for variety.

If you kinda didn't have that much money to spend on your musical interests (or were just plain cheap), you played your radio, kept a blank tape in the player, and when the DJ cued your song of choice, you pressed rec.

You borrowed a tape from a friend and did some homemade bootlegging with the help of a double-cassette. If you weren't so lucky to have one, you used two separate players - one played your tape of choice, the other recorded on a blank, and you hoped that the other people in your house would keep it down for the next 3:22 minutes.

If you wanted to share tunes with a friend, you couldn't yet transfer data via USB or Bluetooth. You couldn't rip from a CD, much less burn one. CD writers were available only to music and software manufacturers, and not yet to the average joe. Instead, using one ore more of the previously mentioned primitive processes, you a made a compilation called a mix tape.

CDs were kinda pricey then, and you bought only albums that you would consider "special", i.e., worth blowing several hundred bucks for, like Michael Jackson's Dangerous or Miss Saigon. If you had a large collection, you were probably conio.

Since CDs caused considerable damage to your savings, you handled them delicately. You didn't leave your disks lying around naked. Whenever one of your friends made the mistake of making the tiniest smudge on the underside, you threw a fit and immediately polished the disk off. If you were really fussy, you bought this near-useless plastic tong-like implement designed especially for handling CDs.

There was no You Tube. If you wanted to watch a particular music video, you turned your television to something like Video Hit Parade or Video Hot Traxx while you did your homework. You waited until something good came on. Those one-hour shows were usually frustrating in the way they only played - rather, overplayed - Janet, Whitney, Michael Bolton, and that annoying boy band with the monkey. You realize you waited for an hour for nothing.

Not many homes had cable. If you were one of the lucky ones, you tuned in to MTV and again, waited. If you didn't have cable, you hung out at your rich classmate's house just for that purpose.

On the hours that MTV was made partially available on channel 23, you turned it on for some background noise, keeping it on for chunks of hours, hoping something you liked would finally play. That's why everyone, regardless of their musical preference, would have been familiar with George Michael's Too Funky, Madonna's Like A Prayer, the bee girl in Blind Melon's No Rain. Even Rico Suave and Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth.

You couldn't Google for lyrics or tabs. If you needed lyrics but none came on the album sleeve, you acquired them the usual way - play, pause, write, play. The words would sometimes be unintelligible so you often had to make something up, and you hoped that no one noticed when you sang To Be With You at the orientation party.

You bought your tabs from music stores like RJ or Perfect Pitch - that is, whenever you were fortunate enough that they had something in there more recent than Bob Dylan or Don McLean. You went to Filbars and bought yourself a copy of BOP! or Tiger Beat and hope the line-up actually had the ones you wanted, and not just a Whitney Houston collection.

... Or you challenged your own skill and figured the notes out one by one.

There yet weren't many fan sites or official websites of your favorite artists. If you wanted news or gossip about your idols, you got snippets on MTV. You consulted the magazines and trusted that the stuff were up-to-date. If you wanted pictures, you gambled for the glossy spreads in those magazines, hoping after you purchase one and remove the plastic wrapper that the 'zine it isn't all just Vanilla Ice photos.

If you had some talent and wanted to pimp yourself, there were no UUC websites for that purpose - besides, you didn't have the convenience of recording yourself through digital means. You bought a blank tape, put it in the Karaoke and pressed rec while you sang into the mic. Or you got your band-mates together, set up your instruments in your bedroom and played in front of a recording cassette player until your parents complained of your racket. You sent a copy of your demo to your auntie who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a talent scout. Or you just sent one to a show like NU 107's In The Raw and hope you got noticed.

These days, almost everything you need to be a music fan is available via the www. A shot at stardom, even. Download here, listen there, tweak here, upload everywhere - it's so easy to be "musically inclined" without having to spend much.
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