Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Making Of TeenBeat Mayhem!  (Part Two): 
The world of music copyrights

People frequently inquire as to how I conduct my research, and the methodology for doing so.  I won't divulge my methods, secrets, etc., but I thought it would make for an interesting read if I discussed the copyright registration process as related to the construction of TeenBeat Mayhem! 

While the world celebrated the arrival of the new millennium as the calendar flipped forward from 1999 to 2000, and waited to see if the prognosticators of doom would have their prophecies of technological meltdown verified, I was totally occupied with preparations to embark upon yet another trip to Washington, DC. No time for holiday period celebration, for I had a pile of copyright registrations to investigate in the hallowed archival stacks within the Library Of Congress.  It's hard for me to convey to someone just how mesmerized and "into it" I get whenever research is involved down at the LOC, as I shall abbreviate via acronym from here on in. If I could conduct this activity all day, I would gladly do so.  I had made at least two trips to the LOC per year, and after the dawn of the 2000 millennium trip, my visits would number once per year, if that - it all depended upon the amount of registrations I had accumulated from my source trawls to a given point in time.  But,  let me backtrack a bit, and reveal how I came to unlock the mysteries of copyright....

During the course of my summer, 1994 road trips, I met a Pennsylvania record collector and researcher for the first time.  Mike K. (who authored both editions of "Sounds From The Woods: Pennsylvania Rock Bands On Record") stated he resides in the "woods of PA", and he isn't kidding.  When we turned off the main state route and  onto back roads over hills and dales, woods indeed defined our scenic panoramic view, interspersed by a farm, open fields and a microscopic town here and there, which is exactly the type of enclave where Mike resides.  A dirt road with a few houses led from the main road in town.  We pulled into Mike's driveway (Steve and myself), and after introductions, he brought us across his vast yard and into his refurbished barn, which housed the bulk of his record collection.  I came across 45s I had not known or seen before during my documentation trawl, as we exchanged teenbeat/garage 45 "swaps" on cassette.  When it was time to depart, I figured I wouldn't run into Mike again anytime soon. 

Mike mailed a packet of information on non-Pennsylvania teenbeat/garage 45s he had accumulated about one year later.  There were full names and dates for scores of garage 45 songtitles, each with a corresponding letter and number code.  These codes were copyright registrations Mike had stumbled across while criss-crossing the four corners of Pennsylvania researching information for his own books.  I had not thought of checking copyright registrations up till that moment the packet arrived in the mail, but it was yet another Zen-like "WOW!" moment of revelation.  The proverbial map leading to
the treasure chest of information which lay ahead had just fallen into my lap.  When I asked Mike if he ever considered attempting to look up these registration numbers at the Library Of Congress, he too became suddenly aware - in his mind, they were simply random codes, as he didn't realize one could actually "look up" the codes and examine the original registration certificates.  That is, until I mentioned the process.  We agreed to meet up at the LOC in Washington, DC the week after Labor Day in September. 

Now, researching the registration codes can be done for anyone who would rather not make the visit; the library fees & charges for the service are rather astronomical in today's time period.  Even in 1995, it cost something like $100 per hour to start, plus extra per each registration number; today the minimum cost runs about $165 per hour to start). However, if you head on in, you can look up the registrations yourself, for no cost.  Big savings! Mike and I had about 250 registrations in total to look up, so we planned on a two day stay.  I drove and booked a hotel room in a DC suburb area that was, at the time, rather "seedy" (I always seemed to unknowingly find myself in these areas).  I learned how to maneuver via the Metro subway to get in and out of the Capitol Hill area, where all three buildings for the Library Of Congress sit, like stone giants dwarfing the humans scurrying about on the city blocks.

Our destination was the James Madison building, which housed all departments for the U.S. Copyright Office. It is the "modern" building, finally opened in 1980, which, to me, resembled a hospital, with its bright white, patterned concrete exterior.  I got off the Metro at the Capitol South metro stop and trekked the three blocks uphill to the entrance.  The building is HUGE. Long corridors, six floors all mapped in an odd, maze-like layout. It seemed like I would never reach the room where Mike was waiting.  When I did make it to the fifth floor in the "renewal" room, Mike was already transcribing registration details from the certificates. There were 500 certificates per each red bound volume; all the original copies filled out by the claimant were mailed along with a cash deposit fee to the LOC.  The claimant would in turn receive a photocopied (mimeographed) copy of the certificate in the mail. All we had to do was pull the correct bound volume number off the shelf, open to the page with our noted registration number, and "viola!"  Mysteries unveiled! We worked like busy beavers, not stopping to take in the golden information at the time, or even a break to eat (Since then, each time I have visited the LOC, I have never gone to the cafeteria for a bite to eat).  However, I felt like a lil' tyke does on Christmas day, as we unlocked mysteries of groups who had defied being located by anyone to that point in time.  My hotel room at night would allow for close examination and scrutiny of the names, addresses and other relevant information that the claimant(s) provided when they submitted their published or unpublished songs for registration all those years ago. 

The other area Mike and I would discover upon our first visit was the enormous card catalog room. Hundreds of the old fashioned, wooden card catalogs were set up in sections classified by year periods.  The main section where I would do my digging covered the years 1955 to 1970.  Here are a couple of shots i found on the 'net , both are from the smaller, reduced size room:

Note: there are at least 15 long rows of card files on each side of the main entry aisle, the above view is from the secondary aisles in between each row length.

Inside each card catalog drawer were copyright registrations for musical compositions, books, periodicals, films....everything, from published to unpublished works, american, International, etc... all in alphabetical order, by author, claimant, and title.  MILLIONS of them. Along with the all-important registration number, which one must have in order to look up the registration certificate in the appropriate red bound volume book located in the basement level room.  I tell you, after four hours of hoofing back and forth within the room to navigate among the card catalog drawers and flipping thru the index cards inside, well, a headache and lethargy would set in. Speed, and pacing were key to stave off any ill-health impediments.

For my first visit, and the next few, all of the certificate transcribing took place in the room for "renewals of copyright".  The majority of the red bound volume books that I needed to examine (the years1965-68) were brought up to this room  on the fifth floor, so that the librarians and copyright specialists could have immediate access.  The bound volumes were otherwise permanently stored in the stacks located on the basement level.  For the volumes that were not in the renewal room, I had to take the elevator down to the basement floor and walk down a long lengthy corridor to the double-door room, B-12. Inside, all of the bound volumes were stored on metal shelving units.  The main section I would be visiting was in a corner area.  When the renewal room was finished with their section of bound volumes, they were returned to the stacks.

As I harvested more and more copyright registrations from my direct research sources back home, I allotted time for two visits to the LOC per year.  I would drive the 5 hour traffic-heavy route down to a DC suburb and get a hotel room, often staying overnight to accommodate a typical two day work period. After all, it was important work for TeenBeat Mayhem!, getting the verified location for as many groups / combos as possible.  No way could anyone have time to track down and then interview a member or two from every single '60s era teenbeat group known; the copyright research method was a sure-fire way to verify locales in the quickest, most efficient manner.   I got to be super-fast transcribing the data, from finding the correct bound volume, pulling it off the shelf, flipping quickly to the correct number, and then jotting down the info in my pre-prepared, handwritten notepads, with each number arranged in numerical order.  I could transcribe nearly 100 titles in 90 minutes (timed myself), which, if one had to pay the copyright office to do the same amount of work, it would cost well over $1200.  And when I would finish a batch of registration number transcriptions, I'd walk back up the corridor to the elevator, and head to the card catalog room on the 5th floor to look up more titles (I usually had several sheets of titles to look up in order to see if they were registered, and obtain the registration numbers). 

The relaxing ease of doing everything myself came to a crashing halt after the events of 9/11/2001.  I didn't make a trip that fall, so when I returned for a visit in the early months of 2002, I was met with a bunch of restrictions.  One now had to have an official ID card to do research, and some areas required card "swiping" or verification by each department prior to entering and exiting.  While that sort of put a crimp in the work process, it would only get worse in later years.  By 2008, researchers were no longer allowed direct access to the stacks in the basement.  Likewise, the massive card catalog room was moved to a new floor, in a smaller room, and all visitors / researchers had to sign in and out with their card ID.  In order to examine the bound books with the certificates, requests by registration number had to be keyed by me, the researcher, into to a PC.  Now limited to just 25 registrations (WHAT?) in one batch, the bound volumes would be retrieved from the stacks and brought up from the basement by a staff member on a rolling cart. This whole process, from keying in the registrations, to the cart arrival would take an hour wait! Talk about severely cramping my style.  It became frustrating to do the work required, but, thankfully, I had dome the bulk of the work before the big brother type changes took place.  for the past few years, up to my last visit in early 2012, I took the train instead of driving and staying overnight to save $$$ (an overnight, 7 hour ride down with arrival in downtown DC at 7AM ). I walked uphill for the five or so blocks (not fun on those cold frigid winter mornings, or during the humid summer days), patiently waited outside on the stone bench until the 8:30 open time, went through the metal detector / screening by the security guards, had my waiting 50 registrations pulled (you are now limited to only 50 look-ups per day), finished transcribing and left at noon, walked back to Union Station to meet the departing train (3PM) for home that evening.  I still plan to return to the LOC from time to time, whenever I discover more "new unknown" registrations.

Note: pre-1978 registered works have not been digitized for the most part, and as such, cannot be searched via the LOC's on-line database.  Post 1977 copyrights are fully searchable on-line, however, you cannot look up the filed certificates online - you must make the trip to the LOC to view them digitally.

Next up: the pro-bono staff climbs aboard; layout refinements / updates, and the resulting insanity which ensued…


Todd Lucas said...

Nice rundown and very interesting. You could probably write another book filled with stories of researching this book.

Otto von Ruggins said...

Mayhem Mike,
Perhaps you can tell me the name of the single that the late, great DJ Terry Knight (CKLW - Detroit via Windsor, Ontario - circa 1964) played which I have been trying to track down for close to 50 years. The song sounded like a cross between Them & The Animals, with more of a Van Morrison vocal with lines like "Mystic she's the queen..." amidst the greatest back to back organ (Vox/Farfisa?) harmonica solos. I contacted Terry & befriended him around 1996, but he couldn't remember it. I've gone through Vernon Joynson's two tomes page by page without success. HELP! Email me at if you have any clues. Thanks!

MopTopMike said...

Not sure that song rings a bell. It's probably something non-US, since Terry spun a lot of UK / European sides.

The Sounds Of 1960's Teenage America, as captured within my book, TeenBeat Mayhem!

Here you'll find all the latest news and updates on the book, plus examples of how it has evolved during the course of 20 years of work! And, a cool 45 or two as well, time permitting. Stay tuned!