A potted history of this popular electronic music cassette magazine, by its co-founder Dennis Emsley
Since attending Klaus Schulze's concert at the London Planetarium in 1977 I have realised how much a person's musical awareness is dictated by record reviewers and radio station playlists. I was only made aware of the above mentioned concert when I returned to my car after listening to Pink Floyd perform Animals at their concert to find, placed behind the windscreen wiper by some clever promo man, a leaflet extolling the skills of said German gentleman and his imminent appearance in the metropolis. My wife Jeanette and I came away from Klaus' concert vowing that we would do all in our power to promote electronic music; we had never heard such music before - how many others hadn't?
A chance remark to a friend who worked part-time for a small local radio station resulted in me presenting a half-hour programme on the subject of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze being considered too esoteric. This was followed a year later by the offer to produce and present a fifteen-minute weekly item on electronic music on the same radio station. This raised several problems; would my own meagre knowledge of the genre be sufficient for such a project? As I had to supply all the music myself, would I be able to afford the number of records required even if I could find a supplier? And finally, could I afford the time and money involved in travelling the 50 miles or so to the radio station?
The first two problems were neatly solved by the suggestion that I contact Andy Garibaldi of Lotus Records. This proved to be the most important contact I could have made as Andy supplied all the music I needed and, more importantly, advice and introductions to various other people involved in electronic music including the editors of all the magazines that were then available; Face Out, Flowmotion, Mirage and Neumusik. The travelling problem was overcome by recording the programmes at home on cassette and posting them to the radio station. This was achieved using two cassette decks, a microphone and a borrowed mixer, with Jeanette acting as recording engineer. As the speech was recorded in real time with the music, and we had no soundproof room, recording had to take place at 2 or 3 in the morning when all was quiet and the illegal CBers had gone to bed.
After a while I stopped presenting the radio item. This was due to various factors but, with the benefit of hindsight, was the right thing to do as upon subsequent listenings it became clear to me that I had been pandering to the masses by playing only the safer, more commercial pieces of electronic music that I had obtained. It had been my intention to include all facets of electronic music and the urge for acceptance had diverted me from my original course.
The period of inactivity that followed was frustrating for us both. Much of this time was spent bemoaning the lack of airtime given to electronic music and the fact that when it was used as background music in TV documentaries and the like, no credit was given to the artist or band. I had also come to the conclusion that written record reviews were futile owing to the shortage of adjectives to describe the music, and in any case they only served a useful purpose if the reader was familiar with the reviewer's tastes - 'one man's meat' and all that. As if to underline the point E&MM was then producing demo cassettes to show off various instruments and effects units they had reviewed or designed, allowing the purchaser to read the technical details and listen to the sounds as well. SFX cassette magazine had also been launched, containing both music and interviews but catering for the already well represented rock and pop market.
The offer of a cassette-copying plant for sale at a very reasonable price was enough to make us seriously consider producing a cassette magazine for electronic music. Andy G. was contacted; he liked our idea and offered to help with distribution, advertising and contact addresses for the artists and bands in this field of music.
Copyright was our first hurdle. Taping of records or cassettes without permission is of course illegal; it had once been possible to obtain a licence but this had ceased to exist. However, hours spent looking through various publications and telephone directories plus many wasted phone calls finally put us in touch with a Mr White at the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society; thanks to his advice and patience we discovered that we had to obtain written permission from the copyright owner of every piece of music we played and declare everything on a form from the MCPS so that royalty payments could be calculated. This has proved to be very time consuming and it is the biggest reason for INKEY$ only being available quarterly although it is our hope to go bi-monthly at some future date. Contacts we had built up with the help of Andy G, Klaus Schulze and Alex Douglas' 'Contact List for Electronic Music' proved invaluable in obtaining the necessary permission and, to anyone without such contacts thinking of starting such a venture as ours, I offer one word of advice - don't!
Next came the problem of equipment; we could copy tapes but could we produce a 'master' of sufficient quality? We also had no mixing facilities. I decided that as we had very little money I would build a mixer - a simple design based on an LF351, and almost identical to the circuit published in the May 1981 issue of E&MM. Two such circuits were built, with one on each circuit for left and right outputs from a cassette deck, these inputs having only unity gain. The remaining channels were for a split mono microphone input with a gain of about 10dB. This allowed us to record the music from disc onto cassette, then to replay the cassette through the mixer onto a second cassette deck. A microphone plugged into the mixer allowed us to add speech over the music. Equipment used was (and still is) two JVC KD720 cassette decks (excellent machines unfortunately no longer available), and a Dual 506 turntable with monitoring being taken care of by Goodmans RB20 speakers through a NAD 3030 amp.
The master tape then completed, we set about the business of copying only to find that the copying plant had developed a fault. The plant was made up of two banks of six decks each; one bank had developed mains hum whilst the other was just plain noisy. This was a major setback; we had committed ourselves to a release date which was rapidly approaching. Money had become very short and trouble at my regular place of work had made the outlook bleak. A friend came to the rescue by putting me in touch with somebody who had copying facilities. This proved to be our saviour but in spite of the very reasonable costs involved, we had to sell the car to pay for it.
Stickers for the cassettes were supplied at a good rate by a local printer but we could not afford the cost of printing the inserts so we settled for cheap photocopies. This was a decision we regretted and all future editions of the tape were to have properly printed inserts, laid out by my good friend Martin Reed. Our one extravagance was the use of soft cases for the cassettes which cost almost twice as much as conventional ones. The latter are less robust than the cassette itself and nearly always break in transit unless specially protected by Jiffy bags or the like. As the vast majority of our business is mail order, the soft cases allow us to use ordinary envelopes, saving on postage and packing.
Thus INKEY$ no.1 was released. The response was good and has been growing ever since. We recovered our production costs and made a small profit which helped towards the purchase of a third (secondhand) KD720.
Another input was added to each channel of the mixer. This allowed us to record the music onto one tape, the speech onto another with mix-down onto the third, relieving us of the problem or re-recording the whole tape every time one of us fluffed our lines. INKEY$ is always a C90 and the music is first recorded back to back to a total of about 42 minutes per side (to allow for errors in duplicating). This includes the introduction music, incidental music and any jingles we may use as well as the pieces we are actually featuring. This is the 'music tape'. The 'speech tape' is then made up. This includes any interviews we may have plus all the speech between tracks and the news item, once again recorded back to back with each item cued in by recording a countdown onto the tape before each item.
To mix down, some form of PFL was needed, our simple mixer not having such luxuries. A small box was made up having three stereo jack inputs feeding a three-position, two-pole rotary switch, the poles being wired to a single jack output socket into which a pair of headphones could be plugged. The inputs to the box were fed from the headphone monitor outputs on each of the three cassette decks, so by rotating the switch we could listen to any deck that we wished, thus giving us a crude PFL system.
Mix-down is as follows; outputs from decks 2 and 3 are plugged into the line inputs of the mixer, which has its outputs connected to the input of deck 1. The speech tape on deck 3 is lined up for the first item of speech using the pause control, and the music tape in deck 2 and what will become the 'mastertape' on deck 1 are set running, deck 1 in the record mode and the input controls set at the required levels. The music is faded in using the mixer and at the required time the level controls on the mixer channel controlling the output of deck 3 are raised, the music level is reduced and the pause button on deck 3 is released, thus the speech is recorded over the music onto the master tape. When that item of speech is finished, the music level is raised and the speech level fully attenuated. Then, using our PFL box, the next item is cued up on deck 3 using the pause control. The tape is completed in this way and is then ready for duplicating.
The above is a simplification (really!) of what can become a very complicated process. For some situations we need the music to finish at the same time as the speech. This is achieved by recording the speech first, timing it, and then recording sufficient music onto the music tape afterwards. With our primitive level of equipment, starting the music exactly as the speech finishes as opposed to fading it in is extremely difficult and requires a quick hand on the pause control.
For the music, speech and master cassettes we use TDK SAs which, with careful use of level controls, allow us to maintain reasonable quality with an acceptable signal to noise ratio, in spite of the low cassette speed and the number of tape to tape transfers needed.
I should add that we always 'spoil' any music we feature, either by prematurely fading it out or by speaking over part of it. This is intentional, indeed it is a prerequisite for some of the artists we feature. We are only here to give a sampler to our listeners; if they want to hear more they can buy the album or tape - even musicians must make money to survive.
With the profits from cassettes nos. 2 and 3, we replaced the third KD720 with a Superscope CD320 which is used in the same way as the JVC but also doubles up as our interview machine. There are lighter portables on the market, but it is well worth the effort of carrying this excellent machine around. Its built-in limiter is invaluable for interviews as the tape can just be started and forgotten which allows for a much more relaxed interview; very important as it is actually going to be heard by our customers as opposed to being transcribed for a written magazine. We also purchased two cheap tie clip microphones which helped even more. We're so pleased with the performance of these tiny microphones that we now use them for all the speech on INKEY$ as well as the interviews, plugging them directly into the Superscope's mic inputs, recording the interviews and some other items such as the news in stereo.
Just a word about our name which should be written with a dollar sign at the end. It is the name of a function in the BASIC computer language and is most commonly used within a program to make the computer respond directly to a given key without using ENTER. It seemed relevant to us as the concept of INKEY$ is direct response: no reviewers and very little comment. Our listeners have their own tastes in music and they have a pair of ears. It's unimportant what Jeanette or I think as the music is there for them to judge for themselves.
As we must sell our cassettes to survive, we try to include at least one well-known name on each issue, but apart from that we do not differentiate between amateurs and professionals. So long as we believe someone will enjoy their music we will try to include it, but it must be said that with the rate at which records and tapes arrive we could fill each issue twice over. Our one main frustration is that we cannot feature the occasional piece from the likes of Tangerine Dream or Jean Michel Jarre, as the big record companies simply ignore our requests for copyright permission.
We have been producing INKEY$ for a year now and in that time we have made many friends in the field of electronic music. We have been given unreleased music by many artists, and Robert Schroder produced our intro music especially for us. Although royalties have been paid to the MCPS when required, no artist appearing on INKEY$ has ever asked for any payment for his music. Although the number of copies in circulation is comparatively small, we have distributors in Holland and Canada, and sell as far afield as Australia, America, South Africa and Chile. We've also had a subscription application from Czechoslovakia. The latest issue, INKEY$ 5, was released in August of this year.
As I have already mentioned, we would like to go bi-monthly in the near future. Any profits will be put towards the purchase of better equipment to improve further the quality for future issues. I am currently building a more sophisticated mixer and we would also like in the future to do all recordings and mastering on open reel machines, though the costs involved mean that we will have to wait some time yet for this.
INKEY$ cassette magazine is available at £1.99 per copy from INKEY$, (Contact Details). Cassette no.6 features Tangerine Dream and Dave Lawrence of Pulse Records.
Feature by Dennis Emsley
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