Straight Outta Comp-ton: The Influence and Demise of Compilations and Samplers

I remember, quite vividly at that, the first compilation CD I ever bought. Thirteen-year-old me couldn’t have been more thrilled when I got my hands on my copy of Atticus – Dragging the Lake Vol. 1, from my local Hot Topic’s counter. I was in that awkward age where one has to start identifying with something in life but has no job and no source of steady cash to boot. I had no genuine interests yet, and, even if I loved an album, I couldn’t afford the high costs of CDs.

All I had was my elementary school love for Blink-182 and nothing else going for me.

Seeing their name, nice and bold, next to that $3.99 sticker, something I could actually afford, was arguably the sole reason I turned out the way I did and the best thing had ever happened to me to date. That compilation was the catalyst for my incredibly musical future. Hearing Alkaline Trio through my discern and wrap-around headphones was the turning point. Not long after, but for a long time after, I found myself scooping up everything I could afford. I was hooked, and I finally had an identity to call my own.

Compilations, samplers, and other promotional CDs were very popular in the mid 00’s. You could walk into any record store and ask for a sampler CD without being let down, both on an independent and major level (Tower Records, anyone?). Sometimes they were included in various low-budget magazines like AMP or LoudFastRules, or maybe you ended up with a handful on your annual trip to Warped Tour (which also has their own comp that features the vast majority of the tour’s bands to this day). If you ended up purchasing compilations like Punk-O-Rama (Epitaph), Hopelessy Devoted to You (Hopeless), or Fat Music for Fat People (Fat Wreck Chords) the price tag was always surprisingly low. Some of these even included DVDs full of music videos for an added bonus! I would always choose one based off of a single band I liked, but end up liking several others on the label. The marketing strategy was genius, and recruited new fans on an exponential level. Even today, as I go through my personal collection, I can still find almost every band I love in my pile of comps from back then. Not to mention, sometimes the songs were unreleased or not available on any other format, so you could have the inside scoop to your circle of friends and be the coolest kid on the block. Without compilations and their listeners, the alternative music scene would be nowhere near the community it presently is.

It feels pretty weird playing these off my laptop instead of my old crappy portable cd player.

Things have drastically changed in the past couple of years with the rise of the digital format, and the hard copy is almost dead. Every time I’m handed a CD at Warped Tour, which is not nearly as often as it used to be, a letdown typically follows. Sometimes they are advertisement-crammed DVDs, or they contain content not related to music at all. Occasionally, I’ll get a download card or something of that nature, but I almost always forget about it as it gets buried in a pile of other random giveaways. You can’t really put a digital download card into your car stereo with minimal effort, so the intent is almost dead on arrival.

The compilation is pretty much dead, and I’m really sad to see it go. The idea of finding a band you end up loving accidentally was far more organic and meaningful, and far less aggressive than having the latest over-produced, over-backtracked crap shoved down your throat until you care for a short period of time.

With the industry not being the same as it was before technology caught up, I can understand the need to change and survive, but there will always be a place in my heart (and on my shelf) for all the old comps that made me the person I am today.
If anyone else has any similar stories involving compilations, samplers, or any other kind of promotional CD you have received that impacted your life, please feel free to share them with EAH – Rob G

Rob G
Artistic Exhibitionist at Emo At Heart