A Brief History of Homespun Tapes

by Happy Traum

From reel-to reel tape to DVD

Homespun Tapes grew out of the conviction that making music is a positive and beneficial activity for both professional musicians and for those who want to play just to entertain themselves, their friends, family and community.

Jane and I started Homespun in 1967 to bring musical enjoyment to aspiring players at all levels by helping expand musical knowledge, technique and understanding. For more than four decades, we have been able to provide lessons by musician/teachers of the highest caliber who pass on their expertise and experience through our successful teaching methods. Now, Homespun’s students are in every state of the U.S. and in nearly 40 countries around the world, with untold numbers of satisfied customers learning to play a wide variety of instruments and styles. How did all this come about?

I had been teaching guitar since my college days, and wrote my first instruction books in the mid-Sixties. Shortly after Fingerpicking Styles For Guitar was published in 1966, I started getting letters from players who just couldn’t quite get the right sound by reading the notes off the printed page. At the same time, I was going on tour more often, leaving my many guitar students without lessons for weeks at a time. The perfect solution for both situations was to tape a series of lessons, based both on my book and on the teaching method I had developed over the years.

My first instructional tapes were recorded in my living room on a home recorder. Once they were on tape, it seemed like a natural idea to offer them to a wider audience, so we placed some classified ads in a few small magazines to see what would happen. Well, the response took us by surprise. Not only were people ordering the lessons, but they started to request instruction in other styles, and then in other instruments. To accommodate them, I recorded a few more series, and then enlisted the help of some friends (who were also musicians whose work I admired) to teach other courses. Before we knew it, we had a small but growing catalog of taped music instruction.

The name “Homespun” was an apt one. After dinner Jane and I would clear the table, hook up a daisy chain of reel-to-reel and cassette recorders, and start making copies. It must have been a comical sight to see us then. We’d start the master player, then race down the line to get each recording machine going. At the end of the side, we’d turn each machine off, flip the tapes over, then start the process again. The next day, after the kids caught the school bus, Jane would wrap up the tapes we recorded the night before and take them to the Woodstock Post Office. (A few years later we finally purchased a high-speed duplicator, a necessary investment for us.)

In 1981 we moved the office out of our home and renovated a house down the road, which we are in to this day. It’s now staffed by a marvelous group of people (some of whom have been with us almost since the beginning) who look after the myriad tasks necessary to the smooth-running and efficient operation of Homespun. I personally oversee every lesson to make sure that the instructor gives a clear and cohesive presentation. Jane takes charge of many of the details of the day-to-day running of the business, casting her keen eye on the graphics and design of our catalogs, ads, video covers and other printed material.

Video revolutionized the learning process. We were the first to develop close-ups and split-screen images using professional three-camera systems, good studios and top camera operators to give you the clearest possible angles. There are now about 500 video titles in our catalog, all in DVD format. Most of our earliest audio cassette lessons are still in stock, although they have been converted and upgraded to CD. Our latest venture has been our Homespun Instant Access delivery via direct download, which has been enormously successful.

Although our lessons are technically well made, the instruction is the most important part of the end product, and we make sure that each one does the job. Over the years we have received excellent reviews in Time, People, Entertainment Weekly, Playboy and in dozens of newspapers around the country. In addition, we’ve had feature stories on NBC’s Today, CNN’s Entertainment Tonight and the Discovery Channel’s Monitor World News, as well as in all the leading music trade publications.

The Internet has permanently changed the way we all do business, and its vast potential for increased communication has led us to explore these new possibilities with real excitement. Our new website has been evolving, and most of you have found it fast, easy and convenient to browse our online catalog and order directly from our site. We’re expecting to continue using the new technology to enhance the learning process, and will be developing new and exciting products in the near future.

It’s mind-boggling to think that we’ve now been producing instructional material for aspiring musicians for almost half a century! When I look back on all that has happened, and the technological innovations that have affected the way we all access information of all kinds, I am struck by how little the music itself has changed. We’ve come a long way from the kitchen table to the internet, but our basic love of the music is still at the heart of our work.

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