A Brief History of Bootlegs

While Bob Dylan was in seclusion after a 1966 motorcycle accident, recordings of demos he made from his home crept onto the music scene by the late 1960s. Pieces of the collection were released officially on his Basement Tapes, released in 1975. Another of Dylan’s albums, a 1966 concert, was released officially in 1998. In the 32 years until its release, the Manchester performance was considered the best selling bootleg of all time.

Not all unreleased material, though, has found its way to the mainstream audience. Instead, fans turn to bootlegs. The problem with bootlegs, however, is they are often expensive and of poor sound quality – and illegal.

Before the Internet, bootlegs often were sold or traded privately and in some cases in independent record stores. With the exception of Dylan, the Beach Boys and a few others, bootlegs rarely surfaced to mainstream attention.

The Internet, however, has brought traders, buyers and sellers together. One usenet has a strict code of conduct regarding the trading of bootlegs. This group uses the Internet to coordinate distribution and trading.

“Bootleg recordings exist because they fill a market: they fulfill fan needs.”
-Gary Warren Melton, Humboldt State University

With access to Napster and the MP3, bootlegs are readily available to any Internet user either by bringing the parties together or bringing the bootleg directly to the user.