Every six months, in an homage to my former life as a dj, I make a mixtape. This last October I pulled together a collection of post-punk, new wave, gothic, and lo-fi gems from the early 80's, a few evil cut & paste sonic creations to make the listener's hair turn white, and an introduction by Vincent Price. I called it Do Not Play.
Then I unleashed a campaign of guerrilla dj warfare on the city of Minneapolis. I surreptitiously left copies in second-hand clothing stores, on flier tables at indie record stores, in between aisles in gift shops, and of course, in angsty coffee houses from Uptown to Dinkytown.
The CDs weren't marked free. In fact, they weren't really marked anything at all. The only thing an unsuspecting victim would see was a blank CD in a black, slim jewel case with the words Do Not Play scrawled hastily across the disc in jet black marker. It was completely up to the hapless hipster to leave the disc where it lay or dare to bring it home. (I secretly, though probably naively, hoped the disc would spawn an urban legend in the vein of The Ring.)
Anyway, it was a complete blast. I must have left 60 or 70 copies in my wake. But about halfway through my campaign of sonic terror, I realized that I was probably breaking the law. Flier tables are fine, but I was intent on leaving copies actually inside local businesses, folded in between sweaters or next to shelves of used LPs.
It turns out I'm in good company. An article in today's New York Times describes exactly this practice, known as shopdropping. (The opposite of shoplifting, get it?) The idea is to plant your product amidst legitimate merchandise -- for free, of course -- in hopes of promoting your wares and your name.
I love this idea! While it probably drives business owners crazy, it's hella fun for people like me. I wasn't so much interested in promoting myself as a dj, though. The Do Not Play project was completely anonymous, right down to the playlist submitted to CDDB. I just wanted to spread a little Halloween joy, and perhaps scare the hell out of a couple of teenagers on acid.
They say if you can reach even one person...