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How to destroy the world’s best fan base

November 30, 2005

Back in the day, the Grateful Dead was the top grossing act in entertainment, year in and year out. They toured 300+ days a year, playing to packed houses all over the world.

Part of their success? They didn’t treat their fans like the enemy.

You want to tape a concert? No problem. In fact, we’ll just open up as many seats as we can for tapers who want to plug into our soundboard, and tape our mix directly. We’ve spent all of this money on great audio equipment, no reason to drag your own mikes along…

You want to share and trade tapes? That’s cool — enjoy!

Going by today’s record label “logic” they should have gone broke over this. Instead, they made money hand over fist, like no other act ever has.

Time moves on.

Jerry Garcia passed away in ’95, too soon to see the Internet Archive’s Live Music Archive end up as a central repository for the band’s legacy, with gigabytes of some of the best fan-recorded music ever created — all free.

Until last week. Last week Grateful Dead Merchandising, who has recently set up their own for-profit live music download venture, asked the Internet Archive to remove all of the soundboard recordings.

The hue and cry has been vast. Motives have been questioned, aspersions have been cast on GDM, Jerry’s widow, and the band’s drummers, who are being pointed to as the culprits. Some, such as lyricist John Perry Barlow and bass guitarist Phil Lesh have been publicly distancing themselves from the decision and it’s aftermath. Others question whether the artists and their estates even have a legal standing regarding material they encouraged others to record.

Where will it all end? Who knows. But there’s a lot of bad blood in deadhead land this week, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

One of the better starting points to learn more is this discussion and associated links at Metafilter.

Update 12/01 – Apparently The Dead have reversed their position on this. Yay team!

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