Saturday, April 09, 2005

Steve and Tweedy: Who Owns Culture?

There is an interesting article in the New York Times about a recent discussion at the New York Public Library about file sharing. It was moderated by Steven Johnson of "Wired" magazine and featured Jeff Tweedy, among others. Here's a sample:

Both Jeff Tweedy, the leader of the fervently followed rock band Wilco, and Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford University law professor who has opposed criminalizing file sharing, seemed to agree that just about anybody who owns a modem also owns - or at least has every right to download - culture products. "I don't think anybody should make any money on music," Mr. Tweedy said at one point, only half joking. "Maybe we would pay audiences."

...Mr. Tweedy...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.
Every once in a while, I think that people running record companies aren't that smart and don't really care that much about music.

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