Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why would any musician give away his music for free?

Have you ever known a Dead Head? Do you know any other band with such a devoted following? Did you know that it has been said that the Dead "may be the most profitable rock band in history." Do you think that's possible for a band that never had a #1 song or a #1 album and had only 2 songs ever that cracked the Top 40?

Maybe the money involved will make you believe:
Despite the death of its leader Jerry Garcia in 1995, Grateful Dead Productions continues to generate about $60 million a year in sales and licensing fees. Pretty good for a group that no longer exists.
Surely making that kind of money requires a fierce protection of one's intellectual property rights, right? Bono, after all, took to the pages of the New York Times to warn that without fierce protection of their copyrights the movie and television industries might suffer the fate of the music industry:
Caution! The only thing protecting the movie and TV industries from the fate that has befallen music and indeed the newspaper business is the size of the files. The immutable laws of bandwidth tell us we’re just a few years away from being able to download an entire season of “24” in 24 seconds. Many will expect to get it free.
A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators — in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us — and the people this reverse Robin Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.
We’re the post office, they tell us; who knows what’s in the brown-paper packages? But we know from America’s noble effort to stop child pornography, not to mention China’s ignoble effort to suppress online dissent, that it’s perfectly possible to track content. Perhaps movie moguls will succeed where musicians and their moguls have failed so far, and rally America to defend the most creative economy in the world, where music, film, TV and video games help to account for nearly 4 percent of gross domestic product. Note to self: Don’t get over-rewarded rock stars on this bully pulpit, or famous actors; find the next Cole Porter, if he/she hasn’t already left to write jingles.
Of course one might ask Bono what exactly is the fate that has "befallen" the music industry. Some believe "[t]he music business didn’t die. And it isn’t dying."

Rather than prevent their audience from taping their concerts, as every other band did, the Dead set it free and encouraged tapers, hence sparking a revolution. You'd think giving their music away would have dampened their success; instead, the freebies propagated it. Even though people could get the Grateful Dead product for free, the band found itself playing in larger and larger stadiums as the fan base swelled and album sales accelerated: 19 gold albums, six platinum, and four multiplatinum.
And so on the official Grateful Dead web site you can listen to any of the weekly Grateful Dead Radio Hour, which, "[s]ince 1985, the show has featured exclusive interviews, music from the roots and branches of the band's musical family tree, and of course a generous helping of unreleased live and studio recordings." At the Internet Archive, you can listen to a seemingly endless number of those bootleg recordings the Grateful Dead encouraged, and you can download for free those that audience members made. And if that's just too much to  begin to comprehend, don't worry! The Grateful Dead Listening Guide is a series of podcasts you can download to hear an expert's introduction into the Work.

Perhaps it is not such a surprise, therefore, that we have articles like  the one entitled "Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead."

And you can even listen to a recording of a concert your professor attended 32 years ago right here:

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