Wilco Continues To Get The Internet

from the always-nice-to-hear dept

We talk about all sorts of artists who really seem to “get” the internet, and how it can be used for good, rather than something to freak out about. It’s worth noting that the band Wilco really was one of the earlier ones to embrace the internet in all sorts of ways, going all the way back to 2002, when the band’s label (a Warner Music subsidiary) “rejected” its album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and dropped the band. It gave the band the rights to the rejected album… and the band responded by streaming the entire thing live on its website. Today that’s nothing special. A decade ago that was a pretty big deal. Eventually the album was released and became the band’s best seller. We also wrote about them back in 2004, when the band had a cool reaction to an album leaking online before its release date. Rather than freaking out, the band said that it’s something inevitable and not a problem. Later that same year, frontman and founder Jeff Tweedy explained a philosophy that will sound quite familiar to folks reading this site:

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.

Anyway, I was just catching up on some podcasts, and listened to an episode of The Nerdist Podcast in which they interview Jeff Tweedy (bonus geek points: Wil Wheaton joins the Nerdist crew for this one) and they have a good discussion on some of his thinking on these subjects. Wheaton actually brings up the whole Yankee Hotel Foxtrot story, and how the band’s decision to put it online like that made him, as a fan, feel invested in the band’s success because it was so kind to its fans. That lets Tweedy again make some key points that we’ve talked about here for a while, but it’s always great to hear a successful musician saying similar things:

I’m happy with the amount of goodwill that seems to exist between us and our audience. I can only guess as to why that exists, and I’ve never been in a band where that didn’t exist…. We have our collaborators and our patrons, who come to see us play, and I feel like we treated them as patrons of the arts and collaborators.

And as for the decision to release YHF online for streaming, he first notes that there was no one around to tell them it was a bad idea. It was just a “practical” decision:

We needed to get out on the road, because that’s how we make money — we don’t make money off of records. So our business model, if you want to call it that… we support ourselves on the road. And having our new record done and wanting to play those songs just meant, well, let’s let people hear them so they’ll know what’s up. And it’ll be more fun to play those songs for everybody….

We just can’t look at it as any individual thing is how we’re going to be supported by anybody. If they get one record free, they might buy another record. If they get one record free, they might come see the show or they might buy a t-shirt at the show… For us, we’ve managed to keep our heads above water by not focusing on “the lost sales” but by focusing on the people who are there and are supporting us.

It’s an attitude that has worked well for the band for at least a decade, and seems to work for many others as well. It still amazes me that so many others in that business tend to see their fans as criminals and don’t make any effort to treat them right at all.

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Companies: warner music

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Comments on “Wilco Continues To Get The Internet”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Works Great For Me

Can I download your music, slow it way down and then mash it up with classical music? You know remix it into something completely new. Also, I’m not sure I like the typical themes of punk music so I would probably have to do something about the lyrics. Maybe I could mix in some sound bites from Ronald Reagan.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Works Great For Me

Open Source Content Management Systems that have free templates available.


Maybe the easiest of them all and it uses plain text files to store data so you don’t need to pay extra for database access.

Sample of templates for CMSimple:

ps: It says free there on the templates but it is only for personal use and charity. There are free templates for commercial use but you need to look for them.

sehlat (profile) says:

Invested In Your Supplier's Success

Wheaton hits the railroad spike on the head right there.

Baen Books did that in 1999-2000 with Webscriptions. It got me back into reading after a several-year hiatus by making it easy and convenient to read my way, on my Palm and now my iPhone. No DRM, very reasonable prices, and good stuff.

I discovered something after ten years of Baen and Fictionwise when the Great Amazon-Publisher War broke out and it got a lot harder to get my “fix” for non-Baen publishers. I discovered I didn’t really *care* whether I got non-Baen stuff from Tortuga and Port Royal.

But I would die in my tracks before taking one sou from Baen’s pockets.

Not a bad way to feel about my pusher, if you ask me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Invested In Your Supplier's Success

Oddly, I haven’t bought a baen book since. Their material is just too easy to get online for free, why bother paying?

What is missing from this story is that the connection to the band would diminish if every band was doing the same. What is special or unique with this act would be lost if 100,000 other acts did the same. Right now the “legal and encouraged download” market is still very small, but if it took off, it would pretty much swallow itself. It’s a useful tool when there are fewer players.

It’s all good until the noise swallows up the signal. Then you are lost in the static.

mercutioviz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Invested In Your Supplier's Success

What’s missing from *your* post is that 100,000 other bands are not doing “the same thing” as Wilco. Furthermore, if 100k bands did try then the music world would be a better place. The market would reward the small percentage of truly talented bands and the fans of one band would connect with fans of another in a sort of cross-pollination that will benefit both.

Also, your comment about the “noise” also reflects “not getting” the internet. The noise is a feature not a bug. Any artist talented enough to rise above the “noise” will find fans willing to reward them.

The internet way is much better than the MAFIAA way where all you get is what the establishment is dishing out.

hothmonster says:

You missed another instance of Wilco “getting it”


That is the vast majority of Wilco, and their side projects, live shows from 95-now. All free to download in flac format. 99% of those shows are recorded straight off the soundboard with the bands approval.

Viachicago.org (the old host for these shows) also has some great fan made mix-tapes with things like all live covers, or an album but all the tracks are the “best” live version of the song from the year the record came out ect ect

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You mean the ones who can only play good music if they can take 40 takes and use a bunch of post processing to make it not sound like crap?

You know why most people get into music? Because they enjoy playing music, getting on stage and dancing like monkeys is fun for them. If they are in it to make the most money with the least work possible, I don’t give two shits.

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