PERSONICS: Music Makers - November 1988

Back in 2014 here on The Hideaway, I featured the only Personics tape I ever made; it was an awkward long-distance cooperative effort between my lovely, ever-vigilant wife and myself from October or November 1990. The tape's title came naturally. (You can jump to the story of WE DID IT ON THE PHONE here.) After a thorough deep dig in the archives failed to yield that original dog-eared Personics catalog probably, published near the end of the Personics corporate life, I turned to eBay and soon had two copies of Music Makers magazine, something entirely new to me though each of them contains The Personics System Complete Catalog. The catalog that my wife picked up in-store was a no-frills affair: printed in black ink on gray newsprint, I recall it being just a list of songs and artists, each with a unique ID#, a price and the length of the song, as there were limits. (More on that in just a bit.) There were no pictures, advertisements or articles that I recall in that original catalog.
Today's issue of Music Makers is dated November 1988 and features Crowded House on the cover. There is no price or barcode on the magazine, which was available free in-store and by subscription. The going rate for the subscription was $25 for 12 monthly issues in the United States and an extra $6 for delivery outside the USA. In February 1989, the magazine had a reported circulation of more than 100,000. This issue has 64 pages and is printed on heavy-duty paper in full color. It is in great condition, clean, no markings with inserts intact though as seen in some scans, there is a rubbing effect like in the first ad greets us just inside the front cover:
Disappointingly, a quick flip to The Personics System Complete Catalog that begins on page 19 indicates that although Elektra thought the magazine was good enough to advertise in, no Anita Baker tracks appear in the catalog. Tellingly, a small disclaimer appears near the bottom of the catalog's cover page, as seen below:
One of the factors in Personics ultimate failure was its inability to get all the major labels on board. Based on articles appearing throughout the life of the service in Billboard, there always seemed to be one or another label considering, joining or withdrawing their artists and libraries from Personics for fear of cannibalizing album sales despite evidence to the contrary. Initial testing of Personics Systems in major record selling chains like Musicland, Wherehouse and Tower provided a boost to overall music product sales by 3.5% to 5.5% even with a severely limited selection of songs. (My other issue of Music Makers from May 1989 features this on the cover: Personics welcomes CBS!)
The who, what, when, why and how of creating a Personics cassette is spelled out right there on page 1. Page 2 features a full page Rippingtons ad for their album Kilimanjaro and the magazine's Contents are listed on page 3. Page 4 kicks off six pages of First Impressions, page long writeups of artists featured in the Personics library. This issue's Frist Impressions include Surf Punks, Irma Thomas, Tony Rice, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Rose Brothers and Alphonse Mouzon.  After a Bo Diddley-starring Dean Markley Electronics ad on page 10, there is a feature titled Prime Cuts, in which a writer takes a topic and somehow spins a Personics playlist out of it. This one is called Living Rooms and it is based on autobiographically redesigning the rooms in your home along with an aural component. Whether he was trying to demonstrate his eclectic tastes in music or the variety of music within the Personics library, writer Sean Elder came up with a 17 song Personics tape. Pages 12 and 13 are devoted to Texas Homecoming, a profile of Nanci Griffiths. The actual article is dwarfed by the large collage illustrating it and actually continues on pages 56 and 57 with another large collage illustrating the thing. Pages 14 and 15 are the beginning of the cover story on Crowded House which is continued back on pages 61 and 63. (Page 62, an ad for Personics itself, can be seen at top of this post.) Another interesting, obviously label-mandated quirk of the service is revealed at the end of the Crowded House profile, where the group's available songs on Personics are listed. There are two pairs of songs listed, like two singles, each with a unique ID# and this printed beneath them:
Note: (the two sets of paired songs) must be purchased as separate Personics Cassette Singles and may not be combined with other songs.
What the heck? I immediately turned to the Catalog section of the magazine to see how much each Personics Cassette Single would run and was surprised not to find them listed. At all. The only Crowded House tracks listed in either section of the catalog were the band's two US hits from their self-titled debut album"Don't Dream It's Over" and "Something So Strong", for a buck apiece.
The order form above is found in between pages 24 and 25 of the Catalog but I'm getting ahead of myself. You may recall that the cover of this issue of Music Makers features the teaser Blue Note: 50 Years of Great Jazz. That article, a brief history of the label and its recent reactivation, begins on pages 16 and 17 before continuing on pages 58 and 59. Now that all the features are out of the way, The Personics System Complete Catalog begins after a full-page ad for TEAC Hi Fi equipment.
This is the fourth page of the Catalog and the 23rd page overall in the issue. Most of the pages are in the first section of the Catalog look like this, with one or more artist features per page. The artists are arranged alphabetically by genre with Rock/Pop being both the first genre listed and featuring the most songs, with artists running from Agent Orange to Warren Zevon. Then there is a Sound Effects section featuring thirty-five sound effects from Air Raid Siren to Wind Howling & Whistling for a quarter each. I don't know about you guys but putting tiny little sound effects or spoken dialogue lifted from VHS tapes or short TV show theme songs between tracks on a mixtape was a big thing back in the day. Our sound effects were lifted from a series of albums we checked out from the public library and though they were scratchy, we used them anyway thinking it added to their disarming charm. Heavy Metal gets a whole page of songs listed, Barren Cross to Wendy O. Williams, with each and every song commanding a dollar save three songs from Faster Pussycat that were listed at a ten cent discount from the others. The next genre is Oldies, songs from the 50s and 60s, lots of Rock Hall Of Famers here but no Motown acts. Surprisingly, this 1980 duet between Neil Sedaka and his daughter is listed in this section and perhaps holds the peculiar title of Newest Oldie. At the bottom of the fourth page of Oldies, there's Easy Listening, featuring a dozen artists and just eighteen tracks. Another oddity in the Catalog finds Bill Conti's recording of "Gonna Fly Now (Theme from ROCKY)" listed here for seventy-five cents. Then there are just two pages of Jazz, from Cheryl Barnes to Alexander Zonjic, with just four songs coming in at the $1.25 price-point and three of them are by Samoa. Soul covers just over two pages and sadly repeats many of the songs already listed in Oldies. On the bright side, Nona Hendryx gets one of those brief artist profiles along with James Brown, who has three tracks in the Catalog. Next up? A Bob Marley-free half-page of Reggae then a page and three-quarters of Blues, four artists, and a dozen New Age artists. Then half a page of Country - only half a page! - just as Garth Brooks was gonna explode though his eventual success will be in no way linked to his absence from Personics. There's less than half a page of Folk/Bluegrass songs, only twenty-one Classical tracks including a $1.75 Mozart piece, and two artists with seventeen songs between them listed under the final genre, Pops.
After an ad for Marantz's beautiful CD-94 player on page 41, the alphabetical section of the catalog begins on page 42. This is my favorite portion of the Catalog, the one that reminds me most of that first Personics original catalog. It lasts for more than twelve pages and is followed by an ad for and the SAE D102 compact disc player. The back page of this issue of Music Makers is another ad for The Personics System.
As I type this, there are six other issues of Music Makers from 1989 on eBay. (And three actual Personics cassettes.) They are apparently all listed by the same two sellers and each issue runs $14.99-$24.99 - all are priced significantly more than I'm willing to pay for a nearly thirty-year-old magazine that was initially distributed free. I might be willing to fork over that kind of scratch should one of the catalogs like the one I remember become available. One of these days I'll get around to posting the other issue I bought. The layout and format are slightly different throughout that issue and the catalog has more songs so it will be interesting to see if some of the smaller genres have a larger presence.


  1. I remember our local Sam Goodys had these. It was like the pre internet Napster. I never could find enough songs I didn't already own to make a tape worthwhile.

  2. Man-oh-man that Anita Baker album is good. 3x platinum, #1 Pop and R&B, along with three Grammy awards (Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song for the title track in 1989 and then Best Female R&B Vocal Performance again in 1990 for the track "Just Because"). I bought the thing ASAP after it was released and loved it from the get-go: https://markscds.blogspot.com/2012/03/anita-baker-giving-you-best-that-i-got.html

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go give that CD a spin.

  3. Wow. I have no memory of Personics, so thank you for introducing me to it. It was a very cool idea for its time. I wonder if there was a money-back guarantee in the event of a mistake (reading the wrong code, as you refer to on "We Did It on the Phone") made by the clerk typing in the code...