Songtape Collection

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Synonyms: tape collections, vid collections, songvid collections, songtapes
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The early VCR vids were often shared with other fans on videotape as copies from the originals.

Most often the vids were compiled into a single videotape as part of a convention vid show (see Contapes) and then sold to the attendees. However, when a vidder (or a vidding group) had enough videos, they would create their own songtape collection and distribute it themselves.

Most vidders, aware of the legal underpinnings behind the fair use defense made certain to charge only production costs (the costs of the tape and postage). A smaller number chose only trade videotapes as a method of lowering any possible objections to vidding. On occasion, however, a vidder would ask for more than production costs, pointing out that the costs of producing a vid were much higher than just a videotape. Editing VCRs were expensive and acquiring source videotape added to the expense. In most cases, the vidding community rejected those arguments by pointing out that most fan activities (fanzines, fan art etc.) never came even close to covering all the costs.

Tape quality was important to many vidders and offering their vids directly to fellow fans via their own 'duping' (or copying process) was one way of ensuring that their vids were shown at their best. This was important because unlike the digital copying process of today, analog videotapes would degrade with every copy. A 3rd or 4th 'generation' (or copy) videotape was often unwatchable, with the people reduced to fuzzy blobs and the sound tinny and distorted.

From On the Double #34 (1996), a fan named JAM says:

"ATTN SONGTAPE FANS!! Please note that all music videos with piano logo titles are done by 'JAM1, including S&H vids & a multi media called 'Move This'. Nth gen copies are being passed around (which are barely watchable) with no idea who did them. Please, do not copy! This is bootlegging my work!!"

However, fans in other countries where the TV shows didn't air (or not yet, or not in English), often copied the episodes for each other and the tapes usually included as many episodes as would fit on a tape because postage was expensive and fans sometimes shared these costs and the cost for converting a master tape from NTSC to PAL. The people receiving copies of copies of the master tape usually had no idea where the episodes originally came from (people placed ads in genre magazines, asking for copies of this or that season of The X-Files, offering Highlander in return, etc.) and the fans who copied their own copies for fellow fans often included vids, bloopers and interviews from other sources to fill up every free second of tape with something fannish. Without title credits, these vids were as anonymous as the episode sources and few vids on these copied tapes came with credits. Copying these vids together with the source material was quite common in the 1990s.

Another drawback to using videocassette tapes as a method of distributing fanvids is their susceptibility to heat. This copy of Reflected Images, found in 2015, is badly warped.


Songvid Collections on Videocasette

Songtape collections started out barebone - the videotape would come inside the manufacturer's videotape box with a simple label and a handwritten playlist. Later collections were more likely to be polished, offering color covers and booklets that explained the creative process behind each vid. (This level of increased polish took place inside the box as well -- early vid collections rarely had title credits; later collections virtually all did.) Songtape collections were advertised by word of mouth and via flyers at conventions. Occasionally they were listed in adzines for sale.

Songvid Collections on DVD

As vidders moved to digital vidding in the early 2000s, songvid collections were offered on DVD. These early homemade DVDs were sometimes incompatible with computer and DVD manufacturers efforts to force the consumer market to adopt a specific DVD format (DVD-R or DVD+R). As a result many DVDs included warnings such as:

"This homemade DVD is made on a Region 1 DVD-R Disc. Please make certain your DVD player can play Region 1 DVD-Rs. Most new standalone DVD players are compatible with DVD-R Discs, but you can check yours at your manufacturer's website. Audio and video quality on homemade DVD-Rs will also vary from DVD player to player. These vids were originally created on VCRs in the 1990s and transferred to DVD." (~from Morgan Dawn's DVD vol. 1).

As DVD authoring technology became more sophisticated and more accessible, the early bare bones DVDs were replaced by DVDs with printed disc covers and booklets (see examples below). Some vidders, in an effort to promote sustainability, offered their DVDs using recycled materials (see Laura Shapiro's In The Rough below). Interestingly, even though the DVD duplication created no video quality loss, some vidders still put limits on both the distribution and duplication of their work. The reasons against distribution without the vidder's permission were complex, but the main focus was ensuring that the vids did not come to the attention of the video or music copyright holders.

Today, fewer vid collections are being offered in physical format as most vidders prefer to showcase their vids via file downloads and on streaming video websites. A number of the vidders that still create DVD vid collections also offer the DVD encoded files as downloads along with a printable pdf DVD cover case. The video file is burned onto DVD and the DVD case cover is printed at home by the downloader, thereby keeping distribution costs to a minimum.

Audio Tapes

The phrase songtapes also has another historical meaning. It was occasionally applied to early fanmixes, or collections of songs distributed on audio cassette. In many ways, these collections were like "proto-vids". The collection of songs were supposed to evoke a particular fandom or relationship. Sometimes they would come with detailed notes of explanation. Sometimes they were circulated along with stories; fans were supposed to listen to the music as you read the story.

Some Early Fan Reactions

  • (1980): "They made 20 songs videos by Z-Con 2, in the Fall of 1980. They carefully put the gen on one tape and the 'underground' slash on a different tape. The night before the con, Diana decided that they needed more credits. By now, they had found out that if one picture was paused, then the action scene they edited after it looked okay. Diana and Kendra spent the con inviting people into their room to share their *crack* i.e. vids. They blew everyone away - no one had seen anything like that. They spent the whole con showing their work over and over, and explaining how they did it." [1]
  • (1981) "The con was underway. Rooms filled with laughter and cigarette smoke. Wine flowed with love. Zines and stories and song tapes took our time… a song tape was born. The reward was given this year as we watch the results of your hours of hard work. ‘What I Did for Love.’ ‘Another One Bits the Dust.’ ‘Just to Feel this Love.’ ‘Forget Your Troubles', 'C’mon Get Happy.’"… [2] Give yourself a hand, Ladies. Your work deserves more. [3]
  • (1989) "Some people do not like songtapes because they do not transfer well to the written page. But obviously a lot of people do like them, because they do not translate to the written word. But obviously a lot of people do like them, because that's what gained us the most contributions." [4]
  • (1989) "I'm also a sucker for silly and my friends and I have discovered that country western songs are best for this. There is something so incongruous about two British agents running through the streets of London to the twang of "Your Cheatin' Heart" that makes me chuckle. Of course, there are quite a few contemporary country songs that have perfect lyrics for our boys. But I don't know if anyone would take them seriously. I also harbor a secret desire to do a song tape for B and D with show tunes. You know, Broadway belters. I think it would be great. It reminds me af that funny songtape someone did for S&H many years ago; it had snippets of songs over short scenes and one of my favorites was Hutch in the shower washing his hair from Fatal Charm" to the sounds of "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair" from South Pacific." [5]
  • (1989) "The "songtapes" leave me cold. I have seen only one or two in any fandom that I've liked. In general, I think it has to do with being visually oriented, so that the words to a song, printed on a page, just don't spark my imagination. Perhaps if Cold Fish were on audio tape, now .... " [6]
  • (1989) "Carrying on with our theme of wishful thinking, this column [in Cold Fish and Stale Chips] could also be called "Songtapes I'd like to see, but don't have the Time, Equipment, Patience to do myself". Again, ideas are solicited from you for future columns. These can be as simple as a song title, or as complicated as a line by line description of which scenes you'd use for what." [7]
  • (1997) "I know songtape ideas don't get their total "feel" across on the written page --(otherwise why do tapes?)-- because of voice inflection, mood of the music, instrumental breaks, and a thousand other reasons. But we do our best." [8]
  • (1997) A fan at Closet Con writes: "On Friday night [P R] presented a selection of K/S music videos, many of which I hadn’t seen before. They were wonderful! As many of you may know, I am a real connoisseur of K/S songtapes. I crave them, cherish them, play them, memorize them, and require frequent injections to support my habit!" [9]
  • (1998) A fan discussed songtapes, especially the ones by Chris Soto and Mary Van Deusen: "Likewise, there are some Mary van Deusen tapes that are absolute classics. What do you think of trying to get permission from her and compile a few hours and selling them, at cost and a little extra for time, to anyone who wants them? And there are others, like the Jersey Trek tapes, so clever and funny and moving, and those we discovered last summer from a very unassuming fan who doesn’t want her name mentioned, but who made some fantastic songtapes including one with the Kirk and Spock dolls undressing each other on the bridge." [10]
  • (2000) A fan discussed the differences, in her mind, between "songtapes" and "vids": "Another thing I'd call "proto-vids" were "songtapes." Yes, I know some people call music videos "songtapes," but to me, songtapes are audio tapes of songs that are supposed to evoke a particular fandom or relationship. Sometimes they would come with detailed notes of explanation. Sometimes they were circulated along with stories; you were supposed to listen to the music as you read the story. [11]

Year 2007 Looking Back

In 2007, Shoshanna began packing up her songtapes to visit a friend and blogged about her memories:

So I'm packing up for a week on the road, beginning with a weekend chez misspamela, yay! And we were in chat last night, and I mentioned that I have bunches of older vids, and she was like, sure, bring 'em along!

Ulp. How to choose?

I have about fifty videotapes of vids (remember when we used to call them "songtapes"?), plus VCDs and DVDs. Even I might no longer be willing to tolerate some of the really old, worn-out ones: the vids taped at third generation, six-hour speed, with no creator information, on tape so old that the picture flickers in and out. Some of the labels are so faded I can't even read them, and I really hesitate to inflict them on someone else, no matter how good the vids were at the time, or even still are, changing aesthetics notwithstanding. And I have no idea if she's familiar with the shows of yore: Blake's 7? Wiseguy? Robin of Sherwood?

So I shut my eyes and flailed. I'm bringing a tape of collated Calicon and Revelcon vidshows, because they are the oldest dated vids in my collection; I have the Calicon 1 show from 1989. (I may own older vids -- in fact, I'm pretty confident I do -- but this is the oldest date-stamped collection I've got.) I'm bringing my tape of the Virgule 1994 and Escapade 1995 shows, because it includes Jenn and Snady's Tris/Alex vid "Promises," which won Best Technical at Virgule, and it might be cool to see what a tech-award-winning vid looked like back in the day. I'm bringing Media Cannibals 1, 2, and 3, because, duh, and Woad Society vol. II: Blood, Vid, Sex, Magik, because, ditto. And I'm bringing the Chicago Loop's Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, because it's a great collection spanning a fair amount of time, I think, and plus it's on disc, so I can be sure it's still watchable!

Notice how there was a point in time when people started titling their vid collections; older single-vidder or vidder-group collections I have just say "so-and-so's vids." Also, I plan to point out that the credit sheets tucked into the Calicon/Revelcon tape box give every vidder's real name.

"The times were different. I was different. The whole bloody world was different."

P.S. to misspamela: Don't worry, I'm not actually expecting us to watch all these! I just wanted a variety, options. And I'm driving, so I can bring anything that will fit in the trunk . . .[12]


  1. ^ Morgan's note's are from a 2008 panel on vidding history at Vividcon led by Kandy Fong and Sandy Hereld
  2. ^ Many of these vids appear on The Texas Tape.
  3. ^ from S and H #28 (December 1981)
  4. ^ from Cold Fish and Stale Chips #2 (1989)
  5. ^ from Cold Fish and Stale Chips #2 (1989)
  6. ^ from Cold Fish and Stale Chips #2 (1989)
  7. ^ from Cold Fish and Stale Chips #1 (1989)
  8. ^ from Cold Fish and Stale Chips #2 (1989)
  9. ^ from The K/S Press #13 (1997)
  10. ^ from The K/S Press #18 (1998)
  11. ^ comments on Vidding Mailing List, quoted anonymously (April 19, 2000)
  12. ^ Thoughts While Packing Vids (2007).