Dead Resurrect Free Downloads
Dead Resurrect Free Downloadsby
There's been a huge shakeup on Shakedown Street.
A week after some of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead ordered a nonprofit site to remove free downloads of the seminal jam band's concerts--sparking massive online backlash and a Deadhead petition calling for a boycott of all band-related merchandise--the band has reversed its position.
"The Grateful Dead remains as it always has--in favor of tape trading," spokesman Dennis McNally tells the Associated Press.
The operators of the targeted site, Live Music Archive (archive.org) tried to deflect some of the criticism from the band, blaming a quick trigger finger for removing the sets from the Web.
"We at archive.org now realize that our mistaken attempts to move quickly were based on what we thought the Grateful Dead wanted. For this we apologize both to the Grateful Dead and their community. There has been a great deal of reaction, our actions have caused more than necessary."
There is a caveat: The site will restore fan-made recordings; however, the more pristine soundboard recordings will remain off-limits for now.
Despite Live Music Archive's mea culpa, there were members of the band who wanted the free downloads pulled. According to onetime Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, the move was initiated by singer-guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann.
"I fought it hammer and tong, but the drummers had inoperable bricks in their head about it," Barlow told the blog BoingBoing.net on Wednesday. "What's worse is that they now want to remove all Dead music from the Web."
Barlow, who made his comments before the official change of heart, and bassist Phil Lesh were among those in the Dead camp opposed to the crackdown. Lesh issued a statement later Wednesday on his Website saying the decision was made without his consent.
"I was not part of this decision-making process and was not notified that the shows were to be pulled. I do feel that the music is the Grateful Dead's legacy and I hope that one way or another all of it is available for those who want it," he wrote.
"We are musicians not businessmen and have made good and bad decisions on our journey. We do love and care about our community as you helped us make the music. We could not have made this kind of music without you," he continued.
"Your love, trust and patience made it possible for us to try again the next show when we couldn't get that magic carpet off the ground. Your concerns have been heard and I am sure are being respectfully addressed."
The band schism in the battle over downloads comes a decade after the death of Dead mastermind Jerry Garcia and the group's subsequent disbanding. While Garcia was alive, the Dead was known to embrace concert tapers, setting aside real estate next to the soundboard operators for fans to record all shows and then swap them via an extensive tape-trading network. The network eventually migrated to the Internet.
While the band's Grateful Dead Merchandising has been repackaging old concerts for sale through the band's official site (dead.net) and Apple's iTunes Music Store, the group's chief source of income, the $50 million or more earned each year through touring, has dried up. (The surviving members occasionally tour as "The Dead", but not nearly as extensively or lucratively as in the Garcia days.)
Deadheads, feeling betrayed by the removal of shows from the Live Music Archive, launched a petition calling on a boycott of the band until it changes its position. As of Thursday morning, some 4,200 people had signed.
"Between the music and interviews in the archive we are able to experience the Grateful Dead fully," the petition states. "It has allowed us to experience different eras of the Grateful Dead, and made us more anxious to purchase releases as they came out. Now it appears doing the right thing for the fans, has given way to greed.
"We've lost all respect for [the band]," the petition continues. "[By] taking away our access to the music we care about most, we refuse to support any aspect of GDM until we see change. No more CDs, no more tickets, no more merchandise. We ask all Deadheads to join us in this protest."
While fans debated the merits of the band's move, David Gans, host of the syndicated radio show Grateful Dead Hour, argued on his blog that Deadheads needed to get a grip and realize they have a lot to be grateful for.
"I think we need to get a little perspective here," he wrote. "First of all, when Jerry said that...tape trading was an important aspect of life in the Deadhead community. It was a one-to-one affair, for the most part...largely a manifestation of our love for the music and our desire to enlighten the world and turn our friends on.
"That is a far cry from what is happening now. The Internet Archive and all the other online distribution sources are high-speed, mass-distribution systems that make the best quality recording available to all who know where to look for them. That is a good thing, of course, culturally--but there is an economic element to this that must be taken into account."
The radio host also sought to counter the notion that those in the Dead empire live "champagne-and-Porsche lifestyles," noting that Grateful Dead Productions has suffered cash flow problems leading to layoffs of many longtime employees, some of whom have been with the group since the beginning.
"I think it is worthwhile to ask ourselves if there isn't some greed on the other side of the equation," Gans added
As for the disputed soundboard recordings, the Dead will keep selling them through official channels and make them available for streaming--but not download--on other sites.
But some fans aren't swayed.
"For whatever its worth, I think it's a mistake…especially with the band not touring anymore," writes a fan called Ridenhighr on the message board at phantasytour.com. "I'm not totally sure why after all these years the Dead decided to do this, and in my personal opinion, it sucks royally."