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.

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A History of the Hard Drive in Music: Part 1

a history of the hard drive in music

A History Of The Hard Drive In Music

In this article, we discuss a history of the hard drive in music. We look at studio disasters, ingenuous post-production techniques and the lost millions.

For a long time now, the external hard drive has offered musicians a safe space to safeguard their unreleased singles and rough cuts. Where once there was fear of destruction, there’s now an abundance of backed up guitar licks and sick beats stored on millions of devices around the globe.

It was way back in 1956 when IBM created the first commercial hard drive. This historical device, complete with the famous RAMAC 305 system, was the size of two fridge-freezers. It stored just 5MB of data in the ice-cube tray compartment. The whole device weighed nearly a ton and ran at a cost of $10,000 per megabyte.

Let’s have a look at how this incredible machine began to influence the recording industry and saved millions of love songs from total annihilation.

a brief history of the hard drive in popular music

“This error cost Elvis a portion of his integrity and stood accused of pursuing a career in appropriation.”

Elvis Presley, Big Mamma Thornton and the Loose Grease

As far back as 1956, the music industry began recognising the value of external memory. During a routine studio performance, an incident involving Elvis Presley and a splash of loose hair grease resulted in the original studio take of Hound Dog being deleted forever.

With no backups made, RCA was forced to settle on an alternate version which featured some lyrics unfamiliar to Big Mama Thornton’s original. This error cost Elvis a portion of his integrity and stood accused of pursuing a career in appropriation. From then on, Elvis and the industry knew they had to back up.

“Although it was a commercial hit, the damaged files cost Almond millions in royalties.”

Soft Cell’s Hard Drive History and Marc Almond’s Missing Millions

Although external hard drives became industry standard, human error was still affecting the release of new music in 1981. Leeds duo, Soft Cell, released a double A-Side of cover versions, including Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love. The initial plan had been to record an original tune as a B-Side. But buckling under severe pressure from the record label, Marc Almond’s New England Digital Synclavier II faced a burnout.

To fulfil their contractual obligations, Soft Cell released an improvised version of Where Did Our Love Go, by The Supremes. Although single was a commercial hit, the mistake cost the band millions in songwriting royalties. Soft Cell has been backing up ever since.

A lot has changed in the years since broadsheet headlines were dominated by such devastating examples of clumsy musicians and lost genius. Be it a full record, or a single guitar lick recorded into Garageband late in the evening, much hassle and heartbreak have certainly been avoided through the correct application of file duplication.

“Martin handed Lennon a cut and paste version of Strawberry Fields Forever and reached Number 2 in the charts.”

The Beatles, Strawberry Fields and a Cut and Paste Job

For every sad tale, there are countless positive ones, too. A band renowned for their creative use of backing up were the Beatles. By 1966 they were experts in using external drives to their advantage and created one of the all-time legendary back-ups.

It occurred during a session for Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Liverpudlians had already tracked over 45-minutes of tape before they became entangled and rendered entirely useless. John Lennon handed producer George Martin previously backed-up versions of the song and famously told Martin to “go deal with it, buddy.”

Despite being played at different tempos and in separate keys, Martin presented the band with a final, restored cut and paste job of Strawberry Fields Forever. The song went on to reach number 2 in the charts, missing out on the top spot to Engelbert Humperdinck.

“Band tensions reached breaking point and John Fogerty took home the Creedence communal hard drive.”

John Fogerty Takes Home the Hard Drive

But even the most durable of external devices are not immune the passion of a band’s internal power struggle. In the heat of studio politics, the hard drive often casts the final signature the winding-up order of a group.

In 1972, Creedence Clearwater Revival was the biggest band since the Beatles. Chief songwriter John Fogerty wrote, recorded and produced hit after glorious hit. But, despite their vast success, other members of the group had become disillusioned at Fogerty’s work ethic. A rift formed when they demanded a cooperative approach to future compositions and it went tits up from there.

The tension in the band finally reached breaking point and Fogerty left, taking with him the communal hard drive. Creedence would never play together again and many potential hits remain safely stored away, unheard to this day.

In part two of A History of the Hard Drive in Music, we look at how Billy Corgan took backing up to the excess. We also discover how Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit influenced a generation of musicians to back up correctly.

Read part 2 now.

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