A Brief History of RareMusic

Dan Cook, owner of Gimme Records in Manhattan, writes about Raremusic Radio, a much-missed internet radio stream that appeared in the late 90's.

Its genre-defying song selection and randomised playback created a playlist second to none. Heavy on the spiritual jazz, latin and soul but with enough other flavours in the mix to keep listeners on their toes. You could listen to Raremusic all day and not get bored. How many radio stations can claim that?

Originally independent, it later joined forces with Grand Royal, following their fortunes downhill until "the plug was pulled" at the end of 2001. Dan, the man behind Raremusic's great selections, describes the rise and fall of the site.

Raremusic.com started in 1997. Or was it 1996? 1998 at the latest. It was a long time ago, or seems that way. A lot has changed. Things were pretty rosy back then: the internet was bubbling; Clinton was president. This was when eBay was still a whisper, not the voracious animal it has become (it will eat itself). This was before the idea that every rare record ever issued would be re-issued.

My friend Steve Alberts, who was into computers (I didn't even have one yet), suggested the idea of putting some music files on the web. I had always liked the idea of doing "cable radio" or radio/music being available on demand without having to listen to commercials etc. Thus, with his computer knowledge and my record collection, Raremusic.com was born.

Every month or two we would digitize some of the records from my collection. The choices were fairly eclectic, as is my taste. We would write a little blurb about each track containing a bit of information and usually a bad joke or two. It was a different time indeed because we almost immediately got some nice press - Spin, USA Today, Time Out NY. We got lots of traffic and admiring emails and we even got some paying jobs to do the same for some other web sites.

One early fan was Ian Rodgers who became an email buddy with Steve. Ian turned Mike D onto the site and he was a fan of it. I knew the Beasties (and especially Mike) because they used to come into my record store all the time. Years later Ian became president of Grand Royal records (he was friends with the Beasties on the West Coast). At the time Mike and Ian were determined to get something big going on the internet.

The idea they pitched to me was that they wanted to resurrect Grand Royal Magazine on the web. They had a lot of great ideas. I signed on to be ONE of the audio streams they were gonna have. At this point RareMusic.com was dormant because Steve got sick of doing all the work (I was on tour or recording with my band Lynnfield Pioneers). Steve didn't really want to do the thing with Grand Royal because it paid shit. I thought it would be really cool so I did it myself.

It turned out Steve was right about being wary because the people at Grand Royal were busy running a record label and writing a book about Grand Royal magazine. So all the cool things that were supposed to happen with the web site and the online version of Grand Royal never happened. Their lawyers and accountants had mastered the art of delay, so very little of the very little money ever made it my way.

The label went bankrupt a week before 9/11 and as Mike D said from his ash covered home "There has been a lot of destruction this week".

Putting together that site took a lot of time, but I did it because I thought it could be built up into something cool. By the time the plug was pulled, I thought it was a real interesting site. Funny and informative. It took a ton of time, so it is gratifying to hear that some people still remember it fondly.