A History of the Hard Drive in Music: Part 2

a brief history of the hard drive in popular music

A History of the Hard Drive in Music

In part one of A History of the Hard Drive in Music, we discussed how the hard drive impacted key incidents within the music industry. We discovered how Elvis, the Beatles & Soft Cell dealt with studio issues and where John Fogerty keeps his unreleased Creedence Clearwater Revival songs.

Part 2 looks at examples of excess, the future of file storage and Neil Young’s pioneering storage Cloud.

“Corgan burned out such a mountain of hard drives, one journalist coined him the Buffalo Bill of the music industry.”

a history of the hard drive in music

Billy Corgan: the Buffalo Bill of Popular Music

The Smashing Pumpkins had been working for six long weeks on their 1993 album Siamese Dream when Billy Corgan took out even more space on a second external hard drive. During those sessions, he backed up such high quantities of guitar tracks that it became impossible to tell which files were original and which were copies. Guitarist, James Iha, described the scenes as “chaotic on a good day.”

Furthermore, Corgan’s obsession with external memory compelled him to replace, without solicitation, many of the band’s original files with his own. This created an unhealable wound that contributed to their eventual split from the band.

In fact, Corgan backed up so many files throughout his long career that his studio became a dumping ground for burned-out hard drives. His mound was so vast, one journalist coined him “the Buffalo Bill of popular music.” Since then, the music industry has called him ‘Buffalo’ Billy Corgan.

The Great Debate: Analogue vs. Digital Hard Drives

Disregarding a few examples of misdemeanours, it’s generally considered a relief that the consequences of spilt studio milk are no longer disastrous. Show Elvis a Buffalo Ministration, with its two terabyte storage capacity, and he’d probably trade in his vast collection of state police badges.

Although, one debate that might interest him is the ongoing question of analogue vs digital. To this day, some engineers and musicians will pass up the chance of unlimited gigabytes for the sepia tones of tape-formatted hard drives.

Although less impressive in terms of efficiency, many appreciate the offer of warmer analogue vibe when compared to its digital peer. Keen eared musicians cite unpalatable glitches within their memory banks.  Others claim that the public generally fails to notice a difference anyway. While ‘Buffalo’ Billy Corgan is in it for the unlimited upgrades.

“Young’s primitive Red Cloud system still regularly releases old bootleg recordings.”

Neil Young’s Great Storage Cloud in the Sky

While the jury remains out to lunch on that debate, a new one has surfaced. Nowadays, many in the industry prefer to use a non-physical system for storing files, called a Cloud. Supporters say it eliminates the risk of a Soft Cell-like disaster. But, sceptics claim that years of unreleased work will be rendered instantly useless should the internet ever be switched off.

One staunch advocate of the cloud is Neil Young. Like Corgan, Young’s desire to back up high quantities of files is seen as excessive. He actually backed up so many albums that by the mid-80s, the hard drive industry found itself unable to keep up with his relentless quest for high-quality storage.

A frustrated Young enlisted his studio apprentice to design the impossible. He wanted “somewhere to store high volumes of riffs in a remote physical location. And, which can be accessed from any device over a digital network.”

What appeared was the world’s first Cloud storage system.  Young called it “primitive and workman-like,” and referred to it as the Red Cloud. Today, it remains situated a mile outside of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where it can be found releasing old bootleg recordings into the ether.

“It’s a morbid thought when speculating on how many careers would be unfulfilled without Fred Durst’s intervention.”

Back Up! Back Up! Tell Me What Ya Gonna Do Now?

Whatever technology the industry uses in future it’s certain to keep an iron grip on the creativity of aspiring artists. Be it a slice of tape, external drive or a Cloud, everything needs to be stored safely. Then stored again.

It’s true that even most experienced of our musical heroes slip up from time to time. But it takes the likes of Lennon, Fogerty and Almond to remind the young of yesterday’s tragedies. And more to the point – inspire future generations to store creative streaks safely.

The turn of the century saw a huge downturn in external hard drive sales when young musicians began taking a DIY approach towards storage. Items such as leftover takeaway Tupperware became commonplace home recording setups. This meant industry relied on figureheads, like Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, to warn against this caviler attitude of aspiring musicians.

In the song Rollin‘, Durst desperately implores today’s youth to “back up, back up,” and asks “tell me what ya gonna do now?” The public answered that rhetoric emphatically when sales shot up the next year. Much to the relief of everyone in the industry.

Just How Many Popular Songs Remain Unheard?

It’s a morbid thought when speculating on how many careers would have been unfulfilled without Durst’s intervention.  Or how many wonderful studio moments still remain unheard from that fallow period of 99/00.  Neither will we ever know many Elvis-like howitzers could have been avoided with the correct use of file duplication. But, we can at least be grateful for the unquantifiable good the hard drive has done. In terms of posterity, it’s second to none.

Finally, one question remains above all. Just how many Creedence songs does John Fogerty keep stored away? Sadly, we may never find out.

Read part one now.

And while you’re at it, you can sign up to my mailing list and get the good stuff straight to your inbox.