How to order music online… in the mid-90s [November 1994]

Kids, it might be hard to believe, but there was a time before Beatport, Bandcamp and Discogs, when ordering music online was a complex process involving dial-up modems, bulletin boards and grainy audio clips.

Welcome to the Internet of the mid-90s, or the ‘Information Superhighway’, as the article below from Generator magazine, published in November 1994, nostalgically puts it.

The article in question is about pHreak, an “online magazine, shop, listening booth, chat line, soap box and email system for people interested in techno music”, according to founder Bob Blake. Or, as the article subhead puts it, ‘Purchasing records via a computer in your very own bedroom! Whatever next?’

“There are a lot of people using the Internet for these kind of purposes,” says Blake. “However, people whose computer knowledge is not that great are experiencing problems. The idea behind pHreak is that we have made it so simple that even those of you out there without a degree in computer science will have no problem logging on and finding exactly what you want.”

The platform also featured record charts from the likes of Fat Cat Records (still going strong, albeit as a label not a record store), whereby the user could ‘call up any of the records charted and listen to a 30 second sample of the selected track – detailed to the extent where you can even pick which mix you would like to listen to’, and then order directly through the system.

Having been around for ‘a few weeks’ at the time of publication, pHreak already had a ‘few hundred subscribers’ on its books, with Blake, alongside systems operator Chris Smith, aiming for 1,000 users by the end of year one, and 2,000 by the end of year two. “Theoretically, there is no upper limit,” he says.

“We are in the middle of a really interesting phase. Everything has been thrown in the air and is coming down in a different way. Things that have traditionally been received down a wire, such as phone calls, are now coming through the air – see the huge growth in cellular phones – and things you received through the air such as television signals are now coming down a cable.

“There is a lot of growth in the market. There are 25 million computers networked worldwide, and e-mail is growing at a rate of 20% a month.”

With those sort of projections, something tells us this online ordering thing might catch on… [Click images to open in a new tab]

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