I recently read an interesting book called Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry. It was written in 1993, when upgrading to CDs was the latest technological advancement in the gray-to-black-market music business. (Coincidentally, 1993 was also the year the first popular graphical Web browser was released, accelerating the mass adoption of the Internet—one of the only enemies bootleggers and legit labels would ever share.) But the bulk of the book’s action is set in the 1970s, the golden age of bootlegging. At that time bootleggers actually drove innovation in the straight record business for a while. They created and sustained the massive popularity of live albums in the 70s, and legit labels tried and often failed to match the speed, quality, and popularity of the best bootleg releases. Bootleggers basically invented the B-sides and rarities compilation—along with its even more profitable bigger brother, the rarities box set—and the straight biz later adopted both formats.

A bootleg that became seriously popular would often be bootlegged in turn by another underground label. If it became seriously, seriously popular it would be bootlegged by a legit label. This is how Dylan’s Basement Tapes and the entirety of his incredible Bootleg Series on Columbia happened. It’s also how the Numero Group‘s upcoming Eccentric Breaks and Beats came to be.