CD Swap

What Are Swap CDs?


Swap CDs are highly personalised compilations put together by music-obssessed people genuinely committed to sharing overlooked, rare, hard to find and often long-deleted music with other like-minded souls. An annual event, it would of course be much easier for forum members to upload their compilations and sleeve art to the internet for others to download.


Participation in a large-scale CD swap requires trust, patience, creativity and a lot of effort. There's the grind of burning multiple CD-Rs, the hassle of getting covers designed, printed and cut to size, the time taken to parcel the damn things up and the cost of posting them.


The reward is immense though. Every person who stays the course receives a bulging parcel containing the swap CDs from everyone else and full sets of these CDs from long-established music forums such as VG+ or Waxidermy provide hours of fascinating listening.


Forums: Waxidermy and Very Good Plus


Day in, day out for 365 days a year these forums discuss all kinds of music. Psych, folk, jazz, funk, rock and soul in all their various guises from around the globe; latin, black metal, death metal, 80s synth loners, 90s grunge, drone, trance, osts, private issue new age, high school bands, the list of genres and micro-genres real and invented is endless. Music forums are virtual music pubs which never close. Conversations about songs, artists, videos, documentaries, sleeve notes, pressing quality, latest releases, reissues or

CD Mix Swap

Cd Swap

recent finds are endless and can be contributed to at any time or just quietly absorbed. It's hardly surprising sales of music magazines are rapidly declining. In the daily turnover of threads forums herald and filter new and old releases or overlooked music from the back catalogues of 'name' artists.


Compilations: Content and Quality Control


The content on swap CDs is incredibly diverse. A significant percentage is from obscure or rare LPs and 45s. In the months leading up to the swap each member has painstakingly crafted a compilation of music which best represents the music they’ve been obsessed by in the previous year. 


Some only include music they’ve just discovered. Others may link together music they’ve known for much longer, sequencing it to create a cohesive listen based around a particular theme or genre. 


Some compilations are a clear sequence of tracks segued one by one with three second intervals of silence between them subconsciously following the sixty year old blueprint established by LP records in the 1940s but with the addition of a numbered track list on the sleeve inherited from Cds in the 1980s.  Others will present a mix compilation either recorded directly from two decks in the style of a club DJ or digitally merged using digital editing applications freely available on the internet.  


Regardless of approach the peer pressure to present at the very least aunique compilation is enormous.  No one wants to produce a dull Cd and and the excitement of sharing with others is matched only by the anticipation of hearing some fascinating stuff in return.

21st Century Folk Art


Competition rather than peer pressure plays a part in the CD sleeve design process. Hand painted, lino-printed, laser cut, tied-up, obi-stripped and shrinkwrapped covers have all materialised.


This years Waxidermy Swap yielded the usual array of CDs with inserts, individually made sleeves, spray-painted designs and even a wax-sealed one. Individually and in sets these CDS represent the first creative artifacts produced by internet created communities. These original, privately circulated limited edition compilation CDs are 21st Century Folk Art.


New Canons


Conversation about crate-digging on the World Wide Web from the earliest mailing lists in the mid-90s up to the message board style forums of today has been instrumental in shaping alternative canons amongst record collectors seeking out music produced by thousands of artists from the history of recorded sound who, wilfully or usually otherwise, never managed to navigate their way to the commercial mainstream.


The story of recorded music is finally being re-evaluated and the role played by major record labels in suppressing, extinguishing or simply not promoting some extraordinarily good music is finally being realised. Major labels aided and abetted by radio playlist restrictions created the narrowest bottleneck and relatively few artists managed to squeeze through to find a wider audience.


Many of those who did were bloody awful.


Private Burns

Very Good Plus

  '...the way the music industry was working back then, for every hit there were ten thousand failures who were on major labels, and for every major label failure there were ten thousand complete failures on teeny independent labels, and for every one of them there were another ten thousand who only did demos or acetates...'


DJ and record collector Keb Darge / Big Daddy Magazine/ 1998


New labels


Darge was talking funk and exaggerating numbers but the principle is similar for every other genre. In the noughties excitement about new (old) discoveries allied to a collective appetite for them on forums has provided both an impetus and a paying audience for a host of reissue record labels keen to supply a growing demand.


Labels such as Finders Keepers, Numero Group, Trunk Records, Light In The Attic and Sublime Frequencies know that forums are a dedicated front row audience providing the material they reissue or uncover is adventurous enough and produced to a very high standard.


Fearful of falling sales and a slump in advertising revenue established music magazines are finally realising that music forums are ahead of the curve and are attempting to play catch up. The September 2012 issue of Mojo magazine features the Light In The Attic release from Donnie and Joe Emerson in their Buried Treasure section, an LP which was discovered by Jack Fleischer of the a few years ago and reappraised and touted by members of the Waxidermy forum shortly after.


New Social Networking and Blogging


The first major crate-digging forums Soul Strut and Very Good Plus were created in 1999 and 2000 respectively but competition from other forums and music-related sites has risen dramatically since then.


Pitchfork, Red Bull Music Academy and Ebay were established earlier, Discogs arrived in 2000 and YouTube in 2005. Independent blogs and free music download sites have also mushroomed since 2000. Waxidermy began life as a website in in 2005 and a forum was added in January 2006. The advent of MySpace in August 2003, Facebook in 2005 and Twitter in 2006 ushered in a new era of broader social networking which has considerably lowered the footfall on music forums in the past few years and dramatically reduced the numbers of new members signing up. It's a similar story across a large number of specialist interest sites.


In many respects it's no bad thing as there were times in the mid 00s when the volume of threads and posts was overwhelming and it would take hours to catch up with conversation on the latest topics. Only time will tell if this slow down is a permanent state of affairs or a temporary one.


If numbers involved in CD Swaps are any barometer then VG+ peaked in 2009 with 69 and Waxidermy in 2010 with 76. In 2013 the numbers were 39 and 49 respectively. It's possible the golden age of large-scale swapping on music forums has passed but if the quality of music on the 2013 Very Good Plus CDs is anything to go by we'd venture that less is most definitely more.


Ian Townsend

February 2014

CD Swap

Sie Vulture

CD Swaps

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