1983 Open Letter – The Declaration of the “Sh!t Hit the Fan”

I was organizing my vinyl the other day when I came across an insert to an album. It was from a Elektra, a division of Warner Brothers and it was a plea to consumers to stop making copies of the album. The insert was signed by a lot of leading jazz musicians who were probably all Elektra artists. At the time most people had a turntable and a cassette dubbing deck. Copying vinyl to tape was pretty standard practice. That was how we listened to music in cars. Everyone had “mix tapes” that were essential for any road trip. It is pretty funny to think that the record industry was concerned about cassette tapes. That was nothing! The digital era, fifteen years later made taping look like the good ole days.

An Open Letter1983 Elektra/Asylum Records

We musicians thank you – for buying this album, for supporting our music and our careers.

But we have a problem, a serious one, we can do little to cure without your understanding and your help.

Very simply put, the growing practice of unauthorized home-taping of our albums is doing each one of us a great damage. Yet most people don’t give it a second thought.

It’s no big thing, it might seem, to let one of your friends make just one copy of this album. After all, just one copy can’t hurt too much.

Or can it?

Look at it from our point of view. Home-taping is now so common-place, so unrestrained, it has to put a sizeable dent in our incomes, is jeopardizing our recording and “live-appearance” careers and is already causing record companies to limit the number of new artists and new albums they invest in and promote.

The plain fact that your friends ask to make their own copy of this album means they are fans. Obviously they must like our music. That’s great – for us as artists and great for our futures

But we need more – more understanding and appreciation of the bind we’re in.

Jazz is not a mass-market phenomenon. We wish it were. Our art form is not for everyone. It’s appeal is to a select, sophisticated audience – a one-on-one kind of music.

We rarely reach anywhere near “Gold” or “Platinum” certifications for sales. The truth is that even big-time bootleggers ignore our product because they have learned even our biggest “hits” add up to too-small numbers. They figure it hardly pays them to rip us off.

So you do not have to be a computer expert to realize that just one single, unauthorized, home-taped copy may represent a significant percentage of our total volume. And shouldn’t be dismissed as merely a meaningless free-for-all. It’s more than just a numbers game to us.

If the practice doesn’t stop, we are all losers. You are losers too – what with record shops cutting down the number of jazz albums they normally carry, your ability to choose from the wildest possible selection is shrinking everyday.

(If you or your friends can’t find another copy of this album in your regular record shop, please let us know. We’ll attempt to get it there as quickly as possible.)

Some people may not want to hear this. But the only way we and other jazz artists know to stop the of home taping and other forms of copying is to appeal to you and your sense of fair play.

We welcome any thoughts, suggestions, comments, questions or answers (pro or con) about this letter or about our music. Of course, we’ll reply to as many as we can.

We need your support. It’s not charity we’re asking for – just your helping hand. We can only suggest that this album be limited to one to a customer.

Thank you.