About Personics

by Glenn C. Koenig

Personics was a service offered in some music stores in the mid 1980s through to the mid 1990s. There is now a Wikipedia Article about the system, which links here.

Essentially, you'd walk into a music store ("record" store) and go over to a large console, about the size of a large juke box. Often, there was more than one console to serve more than one customer at a time. You'd put on headphones and 'punch up' various songs or musical selections chosen from a search list and preview them over the headphones. You could then specify certain songs to be included in your 'mix.' Once you had finalized your mix of songs, including their order in the mix, you could 'commit' this mix to tape. When you did that, you agreed to have the songs recorded onto an audio cassette (typically by machines behind the sales counter) in the order you specified, then purchased by you to take away and play as you wished. There was also a printer behind the counter that printed a label for the cassette, as well as a paper insert to go inside the 'jewel' cassette case, showing the list of selections, including title, artist, recording company (record label), and copyright.

Here is a scan of the only tape I ever had made this way. I made it at Tower Records on Massachusetts Avenue (right above the Mass Pike underpass), in Boston, Massachusetts around 1990. (text continues below)

Audio compact cassette plastic box paper insert, with the title of the recording and list of selections printed on it.

 

Note that this system was developed and used shortly after the introduction of portable audio cassette players (such as the Sony Walkman, around 1980), and compact discs (CDs), which had been introduced in 1982, followed later on by portable CD players. Thus, 45s (45 RPM single discs), which were the predominate method for purchasing individual songs, were losing popularity, both because the quality of the recording had become better on tape and CD, and because a portable player for 45s that could be easily carried and operated was impractical.

However, there was one major issue for the public in this new era, that of how to purchase a single song at a reasonable price. Both Compact cassettes and CDs were 'album' format media, with a number of songs or selections on one disc or tape (sales of 'single' CDs and tapes never really took off). However, many individuals perceived that the record companies were often selling albums comprised of only one 'hit' song and the rest consisting of 'throw away tracks' or otherwise undesirable recordings. They were upset at having to pay for an entire album of songs, just to obtain and play a single desired hit.

Personics gave them a way to choose a compilation, or 'mix' of just the popular song they desired, at a reasonable price, without having to buy and then 'skip over' a number of undesired other recordings.

It wasn't until the late 1990s that so-called "Portable Media Players" commonly known at "MP3 Players" entered the market, allowing individuals to record a mix digitally without having to use tape. This allowed 'random access' to songs, just as CDs did, but with just the desired songs recorded in the player. Perhpas the most well known portable media player was the iPod, introduced by Apple in 2001. Soon after that, Apple brought out iTunes, but it wasn't until the advent of the iTunes 'music store' in 2003 that customers could purchase songs individually online, with license from the record companies, completing the set of features originally offered by Personics, but now in a digital form, allowing random access. By this time, the Personics system was no longer desired, and left the market.

 

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