Smackdown: Jeff Tweedy versus Sheryl Crow




Like everyone else, Musicians have a wide range of views regarding P2P.

But have you ever wondered why? My pet theory is that their personal experiences with their label is the key determining factor. This is especially true if it has had a crucial impact on their careers.

Let’s do a compare and contrast: Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) and Sheryl Crow. Two artists with very different label experiences, and, not surprsingly, polar opposite views of P2P.

From a recent NYT’s article:

"Tweedy, who has never been much for rock convention, became a convert to Internet peer-to-peer sharing of music files in 2001, after his band was dropped from its label on the cusp of a tour. Initially, the news left Wilco at the sum end of the standard rock equation: no record/no tour, no tour/no money, no money/no band. But Mr. Tweedy released "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" for streaming on the band’s Web site, and fans responded in droves. Wilco then took on the expenses of its tour as a band.

The resulting concerts were a huge success: Mr. Tweedy remembered watching in wonder as fans sang along with music that did not exist in CD form. Then something really funny happened. Nonesuch Records decided to release the actual plastic artifact in 2002. And where the band’s previous album, "Summerteeth," sold 20,000 in its first week according to SoundScan, "Yankee" sold 57,000 copies in its first week and went on to sell more than 500,000. Downloading, at least for Wilco, created rather than diminished the appetite for the corporeal version of the work."

On the other end of the spectrum, Sheryl Crow has posted a column at Hits Daily Double. Its an industry standard anti-Grokster lament:

"But, if nobody pays for it, how do the musicians, singers, arrangers, engineers, producers and songwriters get paid? How about the people who create the CD and DVD artwork and photography? What about the people who work in the plants that manufacture the CDs and DVDs or the people who work in music stores. Their livelihoods depend on people paying for the music that is created. If these people are not paid, how do they pay their rent and the utility bills? How can they afford transportation or groceries? The highly visible "stars" who we hear on the radio and see on TV represent less than 5% of the music world. The rest of that world consists of ordinary people who work hard to support themselves and their families and who often struggle just to make ends meet. The musicians, the singers and songwriters among them, are all dreaming of that big break, but few of them will get it."

Noticeably absent from the Crow piece is any mention of legitimate uses of P2P. Nothing about
Independent artists like Wilco using it to distribute their wares. No
discussion of the bad behavior of labels (i.e., Fiona Apple’s battles with Sony). Nothing about the promotional uses of P2P, not just from Independents, but the surreptitious use of P2P from big selling acts like U2 or Eminem.

Sheryl Crow, after starting her career as a back up singer, had her first big industry hit contract as a member with Tuesday Night Music Club. It was apparent to all that she was bigger than that band, so they broke up. She landed a new contract as a solo artist. (see comment below for correction)

This is just a guess on my part — but I suspect her
contract negotiations were a bit more evenly balanced (powerwise) than is typical for an Artist’s first contract. Did
she get stuck with the typical onerous contracts most artists get stuck
with, or did she get a better deal?

My point is not to laud her business acumen; rather, it is to point out how these formative negotiations (and other label behaviors) may impact an artists subsequent perspective on P2P. 



Exploring the Right to Share, Mix and Burn
David Carr
NYT, April 9, 2005

Crow Pecks at Grokster
An Op/Ed Piece From RAC’s Sheryl Crow 
April 1, 2005

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Karmakin commented on Apr 12

    Promotion. That be the real question here. Crow is so far in her ivory tower, that she can’t see the forest for the trees..either that or she’s clouding the issue on purpose to keep her position. Probably the latter.

    Forget everything else. The real word here is promotion. Some people say, well shouldn’t the artist have the right to control how the work is promoted? Well, yes and no. There’s definatly an honor system going on here, of course. But here’s the thing. These people are trading in cultural goods. Like all cultural goods, people get attached to these goods, and want to see them prosper and survive (usually). Because of that, they’ll promote it THEMSELVES in a way that suits them. It’s a kind of twist on meme theory.

    That’s just the way things are. People will lend out DVDs/CDs/Books whatever. They won’t think twice about it. And in reality, P2P is just a supercharged version of that lending. I don’t watch a movie 24/7. So if I buy a movie, I usually watch it twice, and the extras, then it sits there until I’m in the mood again. So when I lend out that DVD, yes, I no longer have the disc. however, what I really paid for, that cultural content, is still in my head.

    So we’re back to the honor system. And in reality, that’s what all cultural goods depends on, like it or not. The good-will of the supporters of the cultural good to support the artists. The RIAA, by playing this FAR too hard, is creating a lot of ill-well, that puts their portion of the honor system in huge jepordy. The MPAA is starting to go down the same path, but I suspect that with DVD pricing/deals what they are, and the rise of the multiplex (which is the greatest thing to happen to movies in..well..forever) that they have much more to go before they hit that point.

    Napster was a cultural force that trumped the RIAAs chosen forces. (MTV+Clear Channel). That’s what happened, and to them…

    That’s why P2P must die.

  2. dsquared commented on Apr 12

    Are you shure about that one, Barry? My understanding (hey, it was the 1990s) was that “Tuesday Night Music Club” refers to a bunch of Sherly Crow’s friends who were general faces-about-town and session musicians in Los Angeles.

    They played on her album and hung out together, but I don’t think there was ever a band called Tuesday Night Music Club and I’m almost sure that they weren’t signed as a band. IIRC, the musicians who played on that album got a bit bitter over the fact that Crow made it and they didn’t, but there was never any hint of a contract.

    google google … ooh, it was apparently a lot nastier than I thought. But this article seems pretty clear that Crow had been signed (and was in a pretty bad way with her record label) before the whole “Tuesday Night Music Club” thing came on the screen).

    By the way I am not a Sheryl Crow fan and I do not obsessively watch VH1 documentaries and anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

  3. Barry Ritholtz commented on Apr 12

    I think you are right — I’m not sure how that plays into her subsequent contract deal —

    Anyone know the gritty Sheryl Crow contract details?

  4. Ken Houghton commented on Apr 12

    Pretty certain dsquared is correct, though note for the record that the rest of the members were people such as David Baerwald (of David and David fame, with subsequent solo albums).

    So the general point–that Crow (who had backed up, e.g., Don Henley) knew how to negotiate and what to negotiate for long before the album deal was made–is still valid.

  5. David Bennett commented on Apr 12

    Let’s see popular music is clearly encouraging the use of drugs and romanticizing criminal behavior. Record musics need to be held accountable!

    Booze encourages drunk driving, guns help murderers!

    It is interesting how the record companies would totally oppose the first argument, their current allies the rightwing advocates of “owner capitalism” (as opposed to “competitive capitalism”) might go for the first, but would oppose the next 2, but both unite on this.

    Personally I think it illustrates an important political unity in society. Important elements associated with 2 spheres of the spectrum agree on the validity of structural defences of existing wealth even if (especially?) if they infringe the development of new wealth.

    It does lend credence to the notion that at it’s roots “hollywood leftism” is reactionary, a emotion reliever that works to mantain entremched interests.

  6. Buck Turgidson commented on Apr 12

    Sure, Sheryl, if NOBODY pays for it, everything is doomed. But that is not and will not be the case if P2P sharing is allowed to continue. Sure, sales will not be 100% of what is possible, but then what is? Think of the ‘lost’ sales as promotional costs. Far, far cheaper promotional costs I might add, than the current record industry model.

  7. seamus commented on Apr 12

    I think this also illustrates how artists depend on different sales channels based on the qualities of their art.

    Wilco is a highly differentiated product, and their fans appreciate their music because they’ve created something unique and new, which is exactly the quality that also keeps them off the radio and out of the mainstream. (Is it any wonder that their most acclaimed record to date was rejected by their major label as somehow unreleasable?)

    Sheryl Crow is a commodity artist. Lots of people like her work, but if she stopped recording today, her fans would easily find substitutes. Crow depends on the radio and major media system to promote her work since her fans won’t work that hard to seek out her music. Ergo, against independent distribution and against P2P.

  8. Jack Jacobs commented on Apr 13

    seamus makes a good point with his comment. I think the artists relative places in the musical food chain also make a difference. As a superstar, Crow is already widely known and her music is widely distributed, so any P2P downloading is likely to be done by casual fans as an alternative to buying the CD (thereby reducing Crow’s income).
    In contrast, Wilco is a relatively unknown band trying to build a core fan base — by offering free downloads they encourage casual fans to check out their music, potentially turning those casual fans into core fans who buy the CD, attend concerts, etc…. So while P2P only has upside for Wilco, its mostly downside for Crow since she really doesn’t have anything to gain from it.

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