Pitchfork has an excellent interview with Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco today. I usually talk about art and antiquities here, but many of the issues which give rise to controversy in the traditional art mediums are present with respect to music as well. The law often struggles to allay the tension between compensating creators and allowing the public to appreciate those creations. In this excerpt Tweedy talks about how the band gives away much of its music.
Pitchfork: Let me ask you about the listening party you set up for Sky Blue Sky, where you streamed it from the website. It’s not surprise considering Wilco have always been at the forefront of sharing music online. You streamed Yankee Hotel for a while, and then you did that thing with Doctors Without Borders when A Ghost Is Born came out.
Jeff Tweedy: Fans did, I wouldn’t want to take credit for that.
Pitchfork: You stirred the idea a bit at the beginning though, right?
Jeff Tweedy: The idea initially came to us that they wanted to give us some money as an act of good faith because they were downloading the record. We said, “Well we can’t really do that. We can’t take money; it would be against our contract. We wouldn’t feel right about doing that. But if you really want to do something here’s a charity that we really believe in.” So they set it up after that.
Pitchfork: How much did you end up raising?
Jeff Tweedy: I think $15,000.
Pitchfork: That’s pretty great. So few artists are willing to think of new models, you know?
Jeff Tweedy: Yeah I just think it’s pretty simple for us. The whole experience with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot validated a lot of ideas we’ve had. It’s not necessarily to make a piece of plastic we have to sell every two or three years. We would love to be able to think that we could do it even if we didn’t have a record deal, which we proved to ourselves that we could. We liked the idea of people listening to our music. I guess the simplest way of saying it is that I don’t think that artists should expend any energy keeping people from listening or seeing or hearing or reading their art. I think that’s antithetical to the whole principle of being an artist.
Pitchfork: When you put up the new one, it only streamed for a little while. Is there any element of hitting the fans before the leak does and trying to head people off at the pass?
Jeff Tweedy: No because, we basically resign ourselves to the idea that when the record label starts sending out promo copies of the record it’s out. And very shortly after that, almost anybody who want’s it would be able to get it if you wanted it, if you’re technically savvy enough to figure out a way to get it– even from our stream. There’s a lot of things that we still have faith in. I still have a lot of faith that there’s very few people who are savvy enough to actually produce a good sounding copy of the record. I also believe that in general there is no good sounding copy of the record other than the vinyl. I think that vinyl versions of the last few records are far superior. This one in particular I think is going to sound great on vinyl. Other than that I think its not necessarily heading people off at the pass. I think that it’s good for us to have people listen to our music.
Pitchfork: Why do you suppose there aren’t more high-profile bands or artists actually coming out and saying that downloads aren’t the end of the world?
Jeff Tweedy: I don’t have any idea. Fear? Greed? I don’t know. Those would be the two principle ideas that I think that would be at work there. I have fear. I have fear as a businessman that it could somehow impact my ability to take care of my family. But I don’t think that fear should be catered to above the idea that I made music because I wanted people to listen to it. I think it’s really tough for people to make that leap of faith. In particular, when they have a lot of people depending on them or they have a lot of bills to pay. You know, construction efforts underway for a second pool or whatever. In the long run the thing that no one will be able to download is a live music experience. But I also think that there’s a lot of good will that exists between musicians and the people that support them and listen to them. And when they’re treated well, I still believe that most people want to do the right thing. Not everybody has a lot of money, so I think that I want people to be able to hear it. I think it would be nice if they paid us back for it. That would be great. It’s always going to be a better situation for us if somebody cares enough to listen.