“The internet is like radio for us”

"The internet is like radio for us."

Man, is that a money quote, or what? It comes from the Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy.

Conventional wisdom (i.e., within the music industry) says that file sharing hurts the odds for commercial success of any CD or single. Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy disagrees; He doesn’t believe every download is a "lost sale." In fact, he realizes that with radio fading as a medium for introducing new music, P2P is the new promotional mechanism replacing FM (shocker!)

In fact, after Wilco was dropped from Reprise Records in 2001 (there was a battle over creative control of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), they decided to stream what would become their new CD online — for free.

The album’s subsequent release on their new label (Nonesuch) was their highest chart debut ever. Thus, P2P acted as a successful promotional mechanism for them, instead of the Label. Note that the labels have traditionally  had as one of their reasons for existence the job of Album promotion; Its how they justify (at least in part) the exhorbitant fees they charge for CDs. Not only has that model been challenged by P2P, but its pretty clear that artists (i.e., U2 and Enimen) have figured out that labels, as the preferred way to promote new releases (and the subsequent recoupable expenses the labels lay out on behalf of artists), are now superfluous.

Disintermediation in action! 

Here’s an excerpt of Jeff Tweedy’s interview in Wired:

"If they succeed, it will damage the culture and industry they say they’re trying to save.

What if there was a movement to shut down libraries because book publishers and authors were up in arms over the idea that people are reading books for free? It would send a message that books are only for the elite who can afford them.

Stop trying to treat music like it’s a tennis shoe, something to be branded. If the music industry wants to save money, they should take a look at some of their six-figure executive expense accounts. All those lawsuits can’t be cheap, either.

A piece of art is not a loaf of bread. When someone steals a loaf of bread from the store, that’s it. The loaf of bread is gone. When someone downloads a piece of music, it’s just data until the listener puts that music back together with their own ears, their mind, their subjective experience. How they perceive your work changes your work.

Treating your audience like thieves is absurd. Anyone who chooses to listen to our music becomes a collaborator.

People who look at music as commerce don’t understand that. They are talking about pieces of plastic they want to sell, packages of intellectual property.

I’m not interested in selling pieces of plastic."

This perspective is gaining traction; I suspect its only a matter of time before the industry adapts to the new reality . . .   

‘Music Is Not a Loaf of Bread’
Xeni Jardin
Wired, 02:00 AM Nov. 15, 2004 PT

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  1. David Bennett commented on Nov 17

    We’ve been through this game before in the early nineties and one thing people don’t understand is to what degree the elite of the technical industry is committed to net freedom and computational flexibility. These things are needed and IBM alone is manyy times the size of the entire recording industry.

    I don’t think that people understand the intensity of emotions in the coming battle. The “conservatives” have genrally aligned with those who want to patent everything they see even if invented elsewhere. While the big players are tighter in this game than they used to be (into the eighties the vast number of patents and copyrights even from monolithic monopolistic IBM) were to protect ideas from lawsuits not to restrict their use.

    We now have nasty little companies lined up using the flaws in the US patent system (the Economist has recently fired a shot of warning
    ) to get everything not hammered down. The open source software people are looking for lawyers. And so is every other technical company. Can you imagine what will happen if someone claims they own key elements of Apache servers?

    Admittedly a lot of Republicans belive this, but if these people win it will really, really hurt are already threatened technical advantages.

    I feel that the media companies are relatively small players jumping into the middle of a very serious debate and not understanding the consequences or who they are playing against.

  2. Chibi commented on Nov 17

    Jeff Tweedy is cool. I’m a big Wilco fan, and even a bigger one now.

    As for your comments, David, yeah it’s pretty interesting what’s going on. It’s like a Phillip K. Dick novel come to life or something, eh?

  3. David Bennett commented on Nov 17

    Maybe Phi Dick. I have to admit my words stuttered on the issue. The fact that anyone putting together a piece of code based on original or frequently used ideas has to worry that some company has grabbed up every idea they have found in what shhould be the public domain, sent it into the patent office without public review and might suddenly start claiming ownership.

    Like Apple tried to do with the GUI even though they took the concept from Xerox Parc with a few exceptions (Steven Jobs felt networking let in big brother and that hard disks were unnecessary, Scully had to fight the culture to get these things.)

    Similarly the idea that various media companies are going to try and impose all sorts of restrictions including devices designed for their protection… We’ve already had a few threatening legal action for *links* to their pages.

    There are plenty of ways to keep these links private.

    My concern is that I skim the political press. Get to the National Review types and they deeply oppose the whole conceptual framework which created this net. Thier position isn’t consistent in that they use it. But they ideologically support constraints to efficiency based on private property.

    Meanwhile the US is burdened with all sorts of inefficiencies and various groups (some associated with liberalism such as lawyers and the media) who benefit from structural advantages. The danger was smoothed in the nineties because of economic boom, but still in key production industries the Japanese despite their problems have grown, so have the Koreans, few of our manufacturing companies have taken up the practice of a system which encourages an average of several suggestions from workers per year with serious consideration of each and rapid implementation of many. We talk a good info game, but we completely miss the point and are stratified and rigid in many (not all) areas.

    Meanhwile you get world which is building itself up with these technologies, their entire infrastructure will be influenced and there is tremendous danger that we will have our own type of “european problem,” old institutions and interests blocking effective development. Except the Europeans are at least aware of deep fundamental problems and our own perception of them is exaggerated. Meanwhile neither Democrat or Republican is looking deep, suggesting the change which will be upsetting.

    And while all sides will protect various vested interests many Republicans will do in the name of capitalism, the concept of “property” will be used to stiffle innovation and real competition.

  4. Chibi commented on Nov 18

    Yeah, you’re coming more from a stifling of competetiveness and innovation angle, and I’m coming more from the soul-crushing angle of the same phenomena: the push to “own” everything by corporations.

  5. David Bennett commented on Nov 18

    Well Mr/Ms? Chibi:

    I would like to think the 2 interrelated. One “charity” I always flog is the US offshoot of Grameen bank. The original in Bangladesh


    is pushing close to a billion in resources, several million borrowers who own the institution, the founding philosophy is everyone deserves credit, thhe poor most of all. No collateral anda 99% repayment rate. Turns “banking” on it’s head.

    The thing I hope for on the net is that as we approach a “true market” where people have information about all providers and the many benefits and costs of choices along with the capacity to hook many small enterprises into organizations that can do what the big ones do…

    In some respect the record companies utter stpidity is welcoming. Look at the potential. One can cut out physical manufacturing, transport and cuts to retailers. A fifty percent cut in price would bring in buyers who like me haven’t bought a record in years. And the demand for the product is almost endless, meaning people buy what they afford and will buy more if they feel the deal is better. So once your physical overhead is nearly gone, you can within limits cut price even more since people who currently spend 25 a month for 20 songs will quite likely buy 80 or more (all the records you’re curious about) for that sum and those of us who don’t buy will find things we’ve heard about a no brainer to buy.

    Cut further on single usage fees (computers and cell phones become the broadcasting system) and paid usage increases. Plus you start bringing back the people you lost to pirating, their musical addictions start to be affordable and they don’t feel ripped off.

    But I think this isn’t what will happen.

    So instead you get:

    “Live from web/cell radio here in nowhere county stright from the cowboy bar and grill is the ‘The Old Yokel Yowlers!’ Remember you can buy their album from the online record store at Jeb’s bait shop which incidently this week is featuring a special on Ms. Barabara sings nursery rhymes, only 15 cents to pipe these into the baby’s room!

    “Now get ready for the “Old Yokel Yowlers” but first Fred is doing his Bill Clinton as record company executive right up here at the bar. So grab a bud (paid adverstisment) sit back and pretend the significant other let you out carousing tonight!”

    And if by chance Ms. Barabara makes it big with the “irony” crowd she and Jeb collect the money direct.

  6. thehim commented on Nov 19

    If I remember correctly, the first album where this phenomenon was noticed was Kid A by Radiohead. The songs were available online for free, but it still sold much better than expected when finally released. Back then, I remember people predicting that it will be common to have the tracks available for free before the album goes on sale…

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