For the past few years, excitable record industry bigwigs have treated the impending arrival of DAT (Digital Audio Tape) with the kind of wild-eyed horror that Texas agricultural inspectors reserve for an invasion of Killer Bees.
Industry leaders have claimed that DAT will allow consumers to make perfect digital-quality copies of their favorite records--meaning that rock fans not only might abandon CDs but could turn their home stereo system into a giant bootleg pressing plant.
So imagine our surprise when a promotional DAT landed on our doorstep last week--mailed out by none other than Chrysalis Records! Is the music industry waving the white flag? Has Chrysalis been bought off by DAT hardware manufacturers?
No way, says Chrysalis president Mike Bone, who mailed out the promo DATs to 400 rock radio program directors, CBS distribution execs and key record store managers. “In fact, it’s one of the best stunts I ever thought up.”
As it turns out, Bone--who once sent radio programmers dead sewer rats to promote a group called the Boomtown Rats--is using the DATs as a gimmick to promote Chrysalis’ new band, the Pursuit of Happiness, whose debut album is on the promo DAT.
“I had gone to lunch with some DAT manufacturers, who also do our CDs for us,” he explained. “And they were telling me how they were ready to go--to make DATs. So I said, ‘OK. Let me be your first customer.’ When they said, ‘You’re kidding,’ I said, ‘Lemme have 400.’ ”
Bone insists his label will not commercially release any DATs until agreements are negotiated that will protect his artists’ copyrights. However, he’s an avid proponent of the new format--and predicts the copyright debate will be settled by the end of 1989.
“Once (RIAA chief) Jay Berman works out all that high-level stuff, you’re going to see them in the market,” Bone said. “This is the format for the ‘90s. You can get hours of music on these little suckers. I’ve got a machine here in my office, with remote control and everything, and it’s as good as a CD.”
But are DATs as convenient? “How many CDs can you put in your shirt pocket?” Bone asked. “None, right? Well, you can put at least four DATs in your pocket. And it only takes about 15 seconds to go from the start to the finish of a record. I can’t wait to get a player in my car.”
For now, Bone is happy to endorse the format--and get some free publicity for his band. “It’s a great awareness builder for one of our best new acts,” he said. “Remember how you showed everybody the first CD you bought, because it was such a novelty? Well, I’m hoping people will do the same thing with these.”
While some of his industry rivals are grumbling about the stunt, Bone says he hasn’t received any flak--yet. “In fact, I sent one to (Island Records exec) Lou Maglia. And he sent back a note, saying: ‘Loved the free DAT. When are you sending me a player?’ ”