just like old motorcycles, reel to reel machines, banjos, accordions, or any mechanism of that ilk, if you see an old one laying around and it works, snag it.
most folks probably have one, or know someone that has one in a closet, or are within about eight minutes of a hock shop, where there is a cassette jambox waiting for you. one of my favorites came from a phoenix goodwill for a ten spot. here are some things you can do with one.
a. do you ever hang out with someone that has ipod a.d.d. and they keep skipping to another song in the middle of that song? i think there is a reasonably good argument that there is a clandestine effort out to kill art by making all these little digital files instantly available. there are industry guys that i have hung out with that seem unable to let a song play all the way to the end without either turning the music down and talking or skipping to another track. putting mixes on tape will encourage you to turn it up and let it play. just burn those playlists right to tape. they will instantly sound better, and you can also manipulate the gaps between songs, as well as how hard you hit the tape for my beloved tape compression effect. [i was raised to listen to music like you are watching a movie, staring at the playback unit and sitting in silence, like a mixdown session.] putting your mixes on tape will give them a new life and sort of sets them free. it's nice to listen to music without "booting" something.
b. record your song ideas. some of these units make pretty dang good recordings. i've written lots of music with these idea tapes, where you just make a bunch of ideas on a tape, and then go back and sort them out. it's a very friendly way of working. you don't have to pull out mics, or headphones, or any of that. also, if things fall into place and you get something cool, it's going to sound very interesting. example: if you have a studio record or something, having a jambox recording of you sitting in your living room softly strumming one of the songs can be a really cool bonus track. a good mastering guy can make a jambox recording pop pretty good.
c. use it as a plug-in for your d.a.w. i remember being at a pro-tools guy's house and he was showing me this very expensive plug-in, and i remarked, wow that sounds like a cassette jambox. why not just bump a track over to the actual jambox and then back into the d.a.w. for instant grit? much cheaper and cooler than that 500 dollar plug-in.
d. record drums. man with those weird compressor things some of the jamboxes have, drums can sound KILLER. you have to kind of move the unit around as the guy plays until you find the right place. but that's a surefire way to get one hell of a badass drum sound. it's a pretty specialized effect, might not would use it on every track on a project but if you are looking for a different sound, that's an idea.
e. use as a monitoring environment. one of my friends was telling me about taking a workshop with rupert neve who was talking about an old friend of his that was into the london symphony back in the day, and had a great love affair with the 78rpm records. so rupert gets him tickets and the guy goes to listen. and doesn't really like it because it doesn't sound like his records. hence "point of reference." i grew up listening to music on tape and on jamboxes, so when i go to mix, with that playback unit, i instantly know what the heck i have. if i go into a studio to work and don't take a jambox, i usually end up asking myself the question, "what does this exactly sound like?" the rooms can be quite different, and the playback gear brings in lots of variables. but with my little panasonic 5000 series jambox, i can take a line out, and get a handle on what we really have. and yes i'm putting a million dollars worth of gear into a 40 dollar tape deck.
f. if you have a cell phone music streaming service [or off youtube], try burning that stuff right to tape. for me, while it's great having that portability of the music on the phone, one can basically look up just about anything and have it playing in an instant….but it's still on the phone. making tapes of these streams really brings them to life and sets the music free.
g. taking a jambox into your dressing room or hotel allows you to make a sterile environment "yours."
h. great jamming in the car with one. you can have a tape you are listening to in the house, split to the car, listen there, go into where you are going and take the unit in there with you. right now i have this lee perry and the upsetters tape that i have been listening to for about a week straight. i carry the unit to the car and blast away. i think music sounds weird in cars with the speakers all built in, and with those subwoofers.
i. it's very economical to listen to tapes. i just bought a great wes montgomery tape in a goodwill for 60 cents. i told bill frisell about it and he goes "man that's a GREAT album." there's lots of interesting new music coming out of the underground on tape. six bucks a pop. and if you don't like the music? tape over it. even if i get crappy music on a good tape, it's still something valuable. i found a jimmy reed tape in nashville for 50 cents. i make mixtapes for free and swap with friends.
j. metal, hip-hop, punk rock, and dub will never sound better than they do burnt really hot onto a good tape and blasted out of jambox.
k. to me the coolest ones are the one-piece, single deck units.
l. hey the mainstream doesn't know about it, so it has to be cool.