Select-the-Tunes Cassettes

AUDIO TECHNOLOGY: CUSTOMIZED RECORDINGS

`ALL I have to do is dream, dream, dream ....'' ``You've lost that loving feelin' ....''

``It's my party and I'll cry if I want to ...''

``These snippets have been just a tease ... the rest of the songs are even better ... just jot down the catalog number and in a few minutes you can have your own hi-fidelity, custom cassette ....''

Flipping through Music Makers magazine - the music catalog of this unique, new system for recording personal cassettes - Chris Tyner pushes a series of four-digit numbers into a console bank in his local Wherehouse record outlet. Through attached headphones, he instantly hears about 10 seconds' worth of one of over 3,000 songs: Everly Brothers, Righteous Brothers, or any of a dozen categories from soul to jazz, oldies to easy listening, rock/pop to country and even classical.

If he decides he'd like to have his own copy of any of the above, he jots down the four-digit numbers. He takes his requests to a separate desk and in about 8 to 12 minutes has his own, personalized cassette - complete with his own name, cassette title, and a printed listing of each song's writer, record label, and duration.

Welcome to what many consider the future of recording sales: customized production. ``That means [meeting] specifically the wants of the individual,'' says Charles Garvin, a Harvard and Oxford graduate who has made a reality of ``an idea that has occurred to many people in their showers.'' As a vice-president of the Boston Consulting Group, Mr. Garvin hit on the customized-record idea while working with a department store concerned about the high cost of shipping and maintaining its inventory of records and tapes.

``It costs twice as much to distribute a record as to make it,'' he says, lamenting huge losses in revenue for shipping records and tapes that nobody ends up buying.

That, coupled with the threat of more home taping, fueled by the digital technology flooding the market, sparked Garvin to find a way to improve consumer sales, unclog inventory, and provide a service not yet offered.

Last October, in about 25 stores here and in San Francisco, Personics System ``listening posts'' and recorders were installed. By the end of this year, 350 stores nationwide will offer the service.

``It's a great idea,'' says Jamie McDowell, a shopper who says she frequently buys full albums of music to find the single song she wants. ``Now you don't have to wade through all the junk to get the song you really want to hear.''

Company officials are negotiating with both large and small record companies for the rights to offer parts of their catalogs through the Personics system. According to Greg Ballard, vice- president for marketing, companies get a royalty roughly equal to the proceeds had they released the song as a single.

Though many large companies have signed up - Capitol, MCA, Polygram, Warner, Elektra, CBS - others, notably RCA and A&M, have declined. ``It's not that we're against anything in principle,'' says RCA spokesman Dennis Fine, ``It's more that we just want to take a wait-and-see attitude to how this thing affects sales.''

Now, after about eight months of test marketing, Garvin is taking evidence to store owners and record executives that Personics System purchases - averaging about $1,000 per week, per store - actually generate sales of more records, rather than cut into the sales of more expensive albums. ``The customer can now experiment with his tastes less expensively,'' says Mr. Ballard, ``and end up with more of what he wants.''

The downside of Garvin's venture at the moment is the number of songs listed: only about 3,000. But the company is adding roughly 300 per month until it reaches current console capacity of about 15,000 offerings.

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