Studio Recording

Burn, Baby, Burn: 'Book Club' Evolves

Nine friends are sitting around on foam cushions in an East Village studio, eating takeout, drinking imported beer, and talking about recent trips abroad, the merits of various BBQ locations, and cookie recipes. When someone puts in a DJ Krush CD, though, the conversation stops.

That's the point of the whole evening: the friends are part of a music club. Based on the format of a book club, meetings are held once a month to play and discuss recent discoveries, old favorites, and obscure tunes that aren't getting too much radio airtime these days. The club, anachronistically referred to by its members as "record club," formed in March 1998 after thirtysomething friends Dan Carlson, a hospital administrator, and Meg Malloy, a gallery director, were talking about how much fun they used to have as teenagers going over to friends' houses and listening to everyone's new 45s.

"I was thinking about a book club I belonged to and I said, 'You know, I really wish I was in a record club instead,"' says Malloy. Then Carlson realized the Hewlett Packard CD writer he had purchased to back up text archives could also be used to copy music. They corralled a few interested friends, and now the club's seven regular members, together with frequent guests, meet every month at one another's apartments.

Everyone brings two selections; during the first "round" each song gets played once while everyone listens without commenting. After the chooser reveals the title and the artist, the song is played once more and everyone gets to respond freely. Then there's the "lightning round," when each song gets played once more. At the end of the evening, Carlson gathers up all of the CDs and goes home and makes two compilation CDs for each of the members. Everyone chips in five bucks for the blank discs and receives about 150 minutes of what Carlson describes as "good radio concentrate."

CD writers, or "burners," were developed about six years ago as a way of storing large quantities of data—up to 650 megabytes per disc—cheaply onto CDs. Carlson got his Sure Store 6020ES in 1997 for about $700, but similar hardware can now be had for $250. Copying requires a few simple steps on a PC or Macintosh program and takes about two-thirds of the actual playing time (a three-minute song takes two minutes to copy).

"I don't think record club ever really would have come together if I didn't already have the CD burner," Carlson says, "but it's worked out great. It kind of replaces what radio used to be. I just don't hear that many things on the radio these days that I want to go out and buy, and I certainly don't hear the kinds of things that people bring into record club," Carlson says.

Since the club formed, it has collected over 300 tracks onto its compilations. Selections have included everything from the German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten to 1950s rockabilly star Wanda Jackson, the Commodores, and Nancy Sinatra. (Members and guests can check a list on the club's Web site to avoid repeating selections.)

One of the members, Derick Melander, a sculptor and webmaster at a computer hardware company, scans photos and illustrations and then uses Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to design album covers for each compilation. Past covers have included images like photos of old soda bottles, porno shots from 1970s calendars, and even illustrations from restaurant place mats.

Members say the club has really expanded their musical tastes. "I'm amazed at how much fun this has become. I find myself getting exposed to so much music," says Malloy. "Now I've heard that some friends in Texas and Iowa have started clubs like ours. It's getting to be as big as Oprah's book club."

 
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