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October 15th, 2000

The Personics System

Following my recent topic on the Art of the Mix Tape, I remind you all of a wonderful, but short-lived, trend of the late-1980′s: the Personics tape.

Large chains like Sam Goody had large jukebox-looking machines set up that had hundreds of known and unknown singles on them that you could listen to sounds clips of and then make a custom cassette from the ones you liked. If I remember correctly, you could get 8 songs for about $10, and this included a custom cover and laser-printed labels. Though I only made one Personics tape (pictured above), this idea was the predecessor for the multitude of custom-CD services available today.

It worked really well, as you could combine singles you really liked with songs you may never have heard before (on mine I put a song by “White Boy Mike”… huh?). The important thing was that they were affordable and it wasn’t unreasonable to think a teenager would go into a store and spend the money on a custom Personics tape rather than on a full-length album. The problem with a lot of custom CD sites now is that you can expect to pay $12 plus shipping for 8 tracks.

A number of interesting sites exist that mention Sony’s short-lived Personics System:

  • Violation of Federal Security Laws: a rundown of a class action suit against MusicMaker.com. Check out summary item number 12.
  • Phones and Death: a weird page about telephone culture. The author discusses a Personics tape he made limited to songs related to telephones.
  • CD Changer Controller: a brief article about the Sony CDK-006 60 disc changer, which was apparently modified and used by the Personics system to run at 2.5 normal duplication speed. Includes some techie information.
  • Music and the Internet: a transcript of a discussion about the Internet’s role in music distribution. Oddly, where they talk about Personics, they mention that you could only use songs that were older than five years old and “out of print.” I know for sure that the songs I put on my tape were not that old, and in some cases were brand new.
  • “I’ll Take Verve, Space and Chumbawamba.”: a May 1998 article from the Industry Standard.
  • RedDotNet: CD manufacturing goes point-of-sale: an extremely in-depth September 1999 look at centralized content and user-controlled digital content.
  • Prices, pirets [sic] and Personics: an April 1998 article shunning the “death of the audio tape” talk. Not much of a mention of Personics, except in the title.
  • The Orphaned Puppy Collection: this guy apparently spent hundreds of dollars in one month alone on Personics tapes. He has more than 25 volumes worth of track listings here. Yikes.
  • Spunkyworld: message thread about Personics and custom CDs.
  • Slashdot: a March 1999 discussion about custom CDs — search on “Personics,” as it’s mentioned a number of times throughout the thread.
  • Make Your Own Compilation CD Site – CDUCTIVE.COM: another message from a thread, this time about CDuctive. From December 1997.
In case you’re curious, here’s what was on my Personics tape from 1990:

Side A

  1. Break the Grip of Shame… Paris
  2. The Originators… The Jaz and Jay-Z (way before he became a household name)
  3. We Don’t Play… Frescho & Miz
  4. Something to Rock To.. White Boy Mike

Side B

  1. Out of Control… Mikey D & the L.A. Posse
  2. Freak the Funk… Stezo
  3. Notorious… Kool Rock Jay and D.J. Slice
  4. The Devil Made Me Do It.. Paris
-ram

Posted in Television, Movies, and Music

FROM: Robert
DATE: Sunday October 15, 2000 -- 1:39:52AM
That definitely falls short of a real mix tape since selection is limited and you make it for yourself. Then again, nothing in a mall record store really makes much sense.

On a semi-related note...on Thursday night at the CDepot in Fairfax, VA one of the employees played a snippet of a David Faustino rap. I nearlly soiled myself.

Oh, and a belated happy birthday, Ryan.



FROM: Tom Sharples
DATE: Friday February 9, 2001 -- 3:27:29PM
Hi, I was one of the co-founders of Personics and the Engineering VP. It was really fun and exciting while it lasted, bleeding edge technology at the time, and I'm glad to see we are not forgotten!



FROM: Robert
DATE: Friday February 9, 2001 -- 3:28:51PM
I'm glad one of the founders could follow my blasting of his product. That gives me cred, right?



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Friday February 9, 2001 -- 7:44:39PM
Tom -- Hi! Thanks for stopping by... despite Robert's disapproval, I dug the whole idea behind the Personics system, especially as a young teenager without much money. What are you up to these days?



FROM: Mary
DATE: Thursday April 12, 2001 -- 11:06:12AM
Yesterday I went to Sam Goody to see if they still have this service. I have three tapes which I love and was hoping to make a new one for an upcoming party. Too Bad!



FROM:
DATE: Saturday April 28, 2001 -- 7:19:39AM
Thank you for putting this Personics recap on the web. I woulda thought by now this system wouldve been revived by the internet.. it was great!



FROM: Tom Sharples
DATE: Tuesday June 12, 2001 -- 2:22:04PM
For an interesting write-up on the entire history of Personics, have a look at the current (June 26, 2001) issue of Business 2.0. Later on this month, it should also be viewable on their website,
http://www.business2.com/magazine/index.htm

Cheers!



FROM: Amber
DATE: Monday June 25, 2001 -- 8:14:59PM
How cool to find this site! I was recently going through my tapes in preparation of a yard sale and came upon my Personics tape. Or rather, tapes. I had ordered one through the mail, and I named it "Hot Hitz Mixx One" (as I anticipated making more tapes). However, the aggregate time for the songs (20 of them) was too long, so I received TWO tapes--both named "Hot Hitz Mixx ONE"! Well, I did a lot of explaining over the years, but it wasn't until last weekend that I whited out the second title and wrote in "Two."
(Now I'm looking to make a custom CD so I can get rid of some of my CDs that have only one or two good songs!)



FROM: Ryan
DATE: Monday June 25, 2001 -- 11:12:06PM
I heard someone talking behind me in line yesterday about a Personics-like CD compilation machine at Best Buy. Since I never foot in the Store of Satan, I can't verify it. Can any of the unholy among you validate this claim?



FROM: carol burnell
DATE: Monday August 19, 2002 -- 9:08:02 am
would like a copy,both cd andtape of rhapsody in blue---complete recording of this piece only---please advise---thanks



FROM: Paul [E-Mail]
DATE: Monday August 19, 2002 -- 9:09:50 am
That's a popular item here at Ping Heavy Industries. The average cost per media (available on album, 8-track, CD, and cassette) is $1,940.63.



FROM: david sutherland
DATE: Friday January 17, 2003 -- 8:42:33 am
I picked up one of the *internal* personics CD discs in the early/mid 90's in Rancho Cucamonga at an outdoor computer swap meet. This is a computer CD, not a music CD and contains the compressed music without any index.

The guy had a huge stack - I think they were all the same disc number-!

I always wanted to see if there was a way to actually decode what was on the disc.

Anybody want to tell how they were encoded?



FROM: Bob [E-Mail]
DATE: Wednesday March 19, 2003 -- 11:57:46 pm
I had one of those Personics tapes done for music Dad & I could listen to - especially on trips to car racing events.

More than likely, I'll post the line-up for it on my site very soon after posting this msg.

Having done a little disk jockeying while in college, I have gathered a huge collection of assorted music. (I managed the inventory for the Penn State University Altoona campus radio station WARC in the late 1980's.)

I would be interested in finding partnerships w/ either the recording industry, local artists or commercial companies in developing a new version of Personics. Columbia House tried their own version of it, but I'm not certain whether they currently still offer that.

I'm posting my personal collection on my site. I wouln't mind getting paid to manage music inventories for retailers.

Having over 10 years fixing computers and using various software, I have hand-coded web pages and wrote programs that generate HTML code.

Since Personics was such aa good idea, I'd like to be a part in reviving that idea.

Feel free to contact me through my website.



FROM: Bob [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday March 20, 2003 -- 12:10:07 am
In regards to the CD of music (David Sutherland posting), it may have been an early MPEG format, perhaps even in MP3 format. Try importing the music w/ MP3 player software. Music Match seems to dominate the MP3 player market from what I've heard.

Most music now exists as either WAVE or MP3 formats, although guys I went to college w/ used Amiga & ATARI computers to tinker w/ music. Tandy computers even had a program that allowed users to use MIDI instruments (like synthesizers/keyboards use) to compose music by showing how it would look as sheet music. I would imagine that if the files aren't WAVE or MP3 format, they are probably related to those programs that use MIDI software.



FROM: Mark
DATE: Thursday April 17, 2003 -- 8:43:13 pm
Hi Tom!

To Dave:
I was a Firmware Engineer at Personics.
Personics CDs used a proprietary compression scheme and the disks ran at 2.5x speed. Even if you decompress it, its not normal audio. It was recorded at 8x speed before being put on the CD.
The cassette deck also ran at 8x. This was done so the customer wouldn't have long to wait.

Mark



FROM: kathy
DATE: Wednesday May 21, 2003 -- 5:28:20 pm
Really enjoyed finding and reading this article about Personics, I only have one, but thought they were an excellent idea, 2 of the songs I had put on it were California Dreaming and Society's Child. Wish they would bring them back!



FROM: Tom Kennedy
DATE: Wednesday May 21, 2003 -- 8:05:01 pm
Visited America in the'80s ( my fiancee was working there) and was wowed by the Personics booth in a Povidence record store. Made anumvber of tapes but was so short of creativity that I gave them names like "Now that's What I call Unrelated Music"(a spoof on an English series of compilation records) and so on. It introduced me to soul music which I'd never got really into in Britain and I was impresssed immensely by the whole thing. Came back to blighty and found no-onn e had ever herard of it and thought I'd made it up or dreamt it. Why in the world did it ever die out?



FROM: Lisa
DATE: Thursday August 7, 2003 -- 7:23:16 pm
Wow! And I thought I was having a BAD DAY BEFORE!!!! I have THREE of said Personics tapes that I had made - one from the 60's, the 70's and the 80's.

I came home and was attempting to make one for my eldest daughter's birthday...imagine my surprise! And everyone always made fun of me for being a "goody-two-shoes"!

Peace out dawgs!!



FROM: Kirsten
DATE: Friday August 29, 2003 -- 10:36:16 am
I loved Personics and still have my two tapes. Where else could I still hear "Lets Go All the Way" or "Break My Stride?" These are the tapes that hold the gems NOT played on the 80's revival weekends.

I recently stumbled upon Eastern Recordings, though, an online service that customizes CD's. They have a decent selection of songs and even some Karaoke, if you're into that. I have a slammin' 19 song CD on the way right now, around $30, but worth every penny, considering I haven't heard "Come Dancing" by the Kinks in years and years its worth it.

Check out Eastern Recordings and you might find that long lost song!

Enjoy,
Kirsten



FROM: ML Starkey
DATE: Friday March 12, 2004 -- 11:27:07 am
the "orphaned puppy"link above has been changed:

http://myspot.neteze.com/~space/tapes/orphaned.htm

I have 2 personics tapes from 1990 and I cherish them! Wonder how much it would cost to replace the tunes on them on CD, if they are even available. Personics was a concept way ahead of it's time.



FROM: Joseph
DATE: Friday March 12, 2004 -- 4:25:51 pm
Personics may have been cheap, but we didn't even have money for that. My brother would sit by the radio for hours waiting for a song to come on and then he would record it on a cassette to make mixed tapes--usually on TDK D-90's--cheap voice tapes. Sometimes he would catch an ad. Now it's more entertaining to listen to the old ads for Faygo, Oreos, and Like Cola than to listen to the songs.




FROM: Ty
DATE: Thursday March 25, 2004 -- 12:28:24 pm
The data compression system that Personics used was Dolby AC-1, which was an Adaptive Delta Modulation system. It was a data reduction system but not a perceptual coder as such - it simply transmitted the "difference" between each 16-bit word. Personics was VERY cool - I made a Howard Jones Personics tape at the Sam Goody record store at the DelAmo mall in Torrance, CA, circa 1989.



FROM: Terry
DATE: Friday April 2, 2004 -- 8:12:30 pm
I have one wonderful Personics tape going back to 1992 or so. Would have loved to do more - in fact I have a coupon dated 9/22/92 for 5 free songs! I believe there still is a huge market for a pay per song service that lets a user go through a list and pick singles to record in whatever format works for the user.



FROM: SHARON
DATE: Monday April 12, 2004 -- 4:49:47 pm
i BOUGHT A TAPE, i PLAY IT ALL THE TIME, TRYING TO FIND A TAPE ON POOL AROBICS, ANY IDEA WHERE?



FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Monday April 12, 2004 -- 6:37:37 pm
I'm going to guess in the poolhouse. Am I right?



FROM: Fizz
DATE: Monday November 22, 2004 -- 7:49:34 pm
My personics tape song list:

Ana Ng They Might Be Giants
It's My Life Talk Talk
Down In It Nine Inch Nails
Sweet Jane Velvet Underground
Kids In America Kim Wilde
Ahead Wire
Private Idaho B52s
The Lovecats The Cure
Whip it Devo
Destination Unknown Missing Persons
I'm An Adult Now The Pursuit of Happiness
Saved by Zero The Fixx

(Hope it formats OK) I seem to recall that the songs were in the order that I checked them off from the list. I got mine at a Newbury Comics in the Boston area, not quite a typical "mall" store...



FROM:
DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 2:51:59 pm



FROM: Zak
DATE: Sunday March 13, 2005 -- 10:37:22 pm
I used iTunes to re-create my Peronics tape. I still have it and listen to the original. I just felt it was time to update it and have it on CD.

Only one song was not available via iTunes: The Smith's "Ask".

Here's my original:

I Don't Like Mondays The Boomtown Rats
It's My Life Talk Talk
I Left My Heart In San Francisco , Tony Bennett
I Melt with You Modern English
Joey Concrete Blonde

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) Squeeze
Mack the Knife Bobby Darin
Everyday I Write Book Elvis Costello Eyes Without a Face Billy Idol
Me and Bobby McGee Janis Joplin
Ask Minibar
I Say A Little Prayer Warwick, Dionne Walk On the Wild Side Lou Reed
(Theme From) Valley Of The Dolls Warwick, Dionne
iTunes Rocks, but it' really just Personics for the 21st century



FROM: Ontario Emperor [E-Mail]
DATE: Sunday May 1, 2005 -- 1:00:36 am
I just read the article "Wal-Mart Unveils Customized Music CDs," and it reminded me of the old Personics system. I trashed my Personics cassettes when I trashed all my other cassettes several years ago, but it was a truly great system for its time.



FROM: Gary Hobish [E-Mail]
DATE: Wednesday December 21, 2005 -- 3:49:20 am
Along with Tom (above) I was at Personics- I was one of the mastering engineers who did the encoding. It was a great ride while it lasted, and one of the best groups of people I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Too bad that "industry standard" territorialism got in the way.

I still have a few of my personal favorite tapes hanging around- a great Christmas music tape, and a collection of One Hit Wonder bands.



FROM: Rich
DATE: Thursday May 4, 2006 -- 3:57:00 pm
I remember the Personics system with great fondness, and still have two tapes I made on it. To be honest, I found this thread from a Google search trying to find if a CD version of the system was still around. One of it's great features was the availability of low-priced or free tracks that were available to pad out what you were buying. That made a great method of hearing new things.



Dave February 16, 2008, 12:20 am

I had mine made at Harmony Hut in Paramus 1989. The Promotion was when you bought a mix you were given for free “Up All Night” By Slayer.

Interestingly, the tapes stickers say TDK II Normal Bias tape but on the sleaves indicates High Bias. I worked at Goodys and the Hut and know tape, it looks like a TDK SA high bias. Doesn’t make much sense, sticker likely wrong. Tape still sound good.

Recorded on a Nachamichi.

Michele March 7, 2008, 6:09 am

I was trying to reach Tom Sharples via te link in his comment early on on this site but my email bounced back and i was wondering if anyone knows how to contact him.

There was also a Mark who left a comment here saying that he was a firmware engineer wit Personics

Any help getting in touch with either of these two men would be greatly appreciated. Or anyone else who happened to work there during the 1984 to 1989 period.

Thanks a bunch,
Michele

J April 11, 2008, 6:10 am

Michele – what type of information are you looking for from someone who worked at Personics?

Tom Sharples May 28, 2008, 5:56 am

Hi, I can be reached at tsharples@qorvus.com, or via the Linkedin system (which is how Michelle finally found me):

http://www.linkedin.com/profile?viewProfile=&key=2076933

This, btw, is a great tool for getting back in touch with ex-colleagues from Personics!

Tom S.

Frank Morrison July 14, 2008, 7:01 pm

I visited the US west coast area from England in 1990. Personics was in a music store in Los Angeles so I ordered a tape. I was so impressed I went back the next day and ordered two more. I still have one somewhere.

When I got back to England I told everyone what a great thing Personics was. I vacationed in Florida the following year with orders for several tapes from friends and family members in England, but Personics was nowhere to be found. I can still remember the feeling of disappointment because what seemed such a great thing hadn’t lasted.

So glad to find people who remember the system!

Thnairg November 12, 2008, 11:04 pm

Fun to see so much chat about that old Personics … boy, does it bring back memories! I bought one tape (at the Music+Plus in Chino, CA, in 1989 if memory serves), whereby I first stumbled upon what continues to be one of my favorite artists of all time, The Connells. As a result, Personics has never disappeared from my childhood memories. Great to hear tidbits about how it worked from the people who were behind it … thanks, Personics!

-T

MJ February 9, 2010, 8:38 am

I too worked there in the 80′s as a Premastering Engineer. It was a brilliant system that was, unfortunately doomed to become obsolete all too soon. The cassette was not fated to last forever as a format and, as we all know, you may now do all that Personics did on your home computer. It was a wonderful moment in time, though, as we struggled between mediums. I will never forget the excitement as we took delivery on the latest SCSI hard drives that would, when combined, finally let us store 1 gigabyte of data on our mastering computer.

Ron August 3, 2010, 8:50 pm

That has to be one of the best mixtape track listings ever. If you still have it would you be willing to sell it?

Tara June 23, 2011, 12:42 pm

I loved personics and would love to create my own peronal CD of my favorite songs again. Do you happen to know what companies are offering these services. Of course I would be willing to pay for the songs at their current rate. I just cannot adapt to downloading music into some tiny device that I cannot figure out how to use. The simplicity of cassettes and CD’s, especially when listening to them in my 14 year old car, (which has both options) remains one of my great pleasures, long drives to great music.

Jules Black January 11, 2012, 4:02 am

I too loved Personics. I was visiting New York from Australia and read about this new service at Sam Goody Stores. Off I went to Goody’s, got the Personics catalog, pored over it for hours back at the hotel and the next day went back to make my order. The Personic computer totted up the total playing time of my selections and from that worked out if a 60 or 90 minute cassette blank was needed. The computer also worked out how to balance the playing times up on each side. I paid my money, got to name the cassette and picked it up the next day. I repeated the process a few months later. After that I think the cassette was dying, Sam Goodys went broke I think and so did Personics itself, I think.

Tom Sharples August 5, 2012, 3:32 pm

Sadly I have to report that an old, dear friend and the former Chief Engineer of Personics , John Weitz, died on August 1st, 2012. John was a remarkable guy – brilliant electronics and firmware engineer, musician, and never boring. I will miss him.
http://www.crippenandflynnchapels.com/sitemaker/sites/Crippe1/obit.cgi?user=677978Weitz

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