The Overdub Tampering Committee

By RYAN WALSH  |  February 15, 2012

OF GOLD AND GARBAGE

The first CD I purchased was Faith No More's Angel Dust, when I was 14 years old. I listened to it endlessly, and scoured the liner notes for insights into the songs and the recording process. Yes, I loved it right off the bat, but I also only owned that one single CD. It would be weeks before I could afford to buy another album. The music was hyper-appealing to me, sure, but repetition and careful, undivided attention also played a major factor in cementing Angel Dust's permanent place in my consciousness. When I made purchases of lesser albums (things I disliked and never grew to enjoy), I still gave them overly fair chances on my stereo. I had to! After all, I had just spent all my money obtaining this plastic circular disc and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to find something I could latch onto.

Blindly buying an album that might turn out to be gold or garbage wasn't an ideal, or even fair, scenario. The playing field needed to be leveled. The era of selling records by surrounding a hit radio single with disposable musical afterthoughts began to disintegrate the moment consumers were allowed to sample the whole album before purchasing it. But what lay one step beyond this technological advancement — being able to own any and all music before purchasing it — led straight toward a sort of cultural gluttony.

I would make the argument that removing all traffic lights from the music-collecting highway inevitably creates careless listener practices — like, for instance, judging a band or an album by one song, or even a portion of a single song (I've done this, and I bet you have, too). One time, scrolling through my music collection, I found dozens of albums I had downloaded over a year before and had never even listened to once. I imagined my own band's music lost in someone's massive collection, totally unheard, just the act of downloading fulfilling their passing curiosity. What a depressing mess! I missed my romantic relationship to music. I wanted to smash my iPod and go back to scouring CD racks. I wanted to pay careful attention to one thing at a time. I considered the downloading lawsuits to be 100 percent counter-productive, while the fake-file method was too obvious and even overtly funny to be permanently dissuasive. I thought that, to be truly effective, to actually change people's minds about how we consume music, the situation called for something subtle, insidious, and almost invisible.

At first, the idea was this: I and a large group of Boston musicians and recording engineers would wait until new albums leaked on the Internet, download them as soon as possible, add subtle overdubs to the recordings, and try to get the album back online early enough to be in a position where it would be downloaded by a lot of people. What kind of overdubs? I imagined things like an atmospheric hum being added to entire tracks, placing a small piano lick in just the second verse of another song, or adding extra backing vocals to a chorus here and there. The idea was to blend in and not be noticed as "out of place" or "added in later" by the listener. I wanted people to grow to love albums and songs that had small, tiny additions that we had placed there and not realize it for years. In my logic, this would be the weird price they would pay for obtaining their music for free.

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