Thursday, September 22, 2005

LA Times Article on Bootleg Sharing

Pretty decent article from back in November of 04 about the proliferation of bootleg accessible shows and the trading culture. Wish I had a little more to go on and a better understanding of fucking bittorrent but still blows my mind.

Setting the live music free

Websites enable the exchange of concert recordings, a practice that has thrived around the Grateful Dead and doesn't bother the music industry.

By Steve Hochman, Special to The Times

A decade after Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack while at a drug rehabilitation facility on Aug. 9, 1995, the legacy he and the Grateful Dead left is stronger than ever.

That's not so much a comment about the young fans who follow such Dead-influenced "jam" bands as the String Cheese Incident. Nor is the band's spirit to be found in its full flower at Bonnaroo or other festivals furthering the scene the Dead anchored in its heyday.

If you really want to find the legacy of the Dead and its legion of Deadheads today, go online.

In recent months there's been an explosion on the Internet of what used to be called tape trading. This is not the illegal copying of commercially available music that is being fought by the major record companies. This is the free, generally legal exchange of fan-made concert tapes, radio broadcasts and material that was never officially released — by the Dead and just about anybody else.

It's a world that is growing daily at an exponential rate — and has its foundation in the community of tapers and traders that initially coalesced around and was nurtured by Garcia and the Grateful Dead.

"The Dead was the real forerunner," says Brewster Kahle, digital librarian of Internet Archive (, which features a Live Music Archive section for concert recordings. "The idea was you sell some things, you give some things away, and that balance really personified the Grateful Dead. They started a model."

The Live Music Archive's catalog of recordings just passed 25,000, up from 20,000 in February and half that figure in March 2004. About a tenth of those are of Grateful Dead shows, and the bulk of the rest are from bands that share the loose jam aesthetic but not all. The list of performers represented runs to more than 1,000 and ranges from aggressive Texas rock outfit And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead to Billy Corgan's short-lived Zwan.

Such other sites as Dimeadozen and the Traders' Den offer a full spectrum of selections. There's everything from obscure jazz dates from the '50s to major rock concerts that happened just a couple of days ago. Want to download Cream's Royal Albert Hall reunion shows from May? A vintage 1969 concert by the same band? They're there. Bruce Springsteen from the '70s? Easy. Arcade Fire at Lollapalooza last month? Yours for the taking. This isn't limited to rock bands with cult followings either. You'll find Mariah Carey and Ashlee Simpson concerts, and videos as well as audio recordings.

These aren't the sites where you might find the new Mike Jones album or other commercial releases without paying. These are the places for people coveting music that can't be bought.

Nothing illustrates the phenomenon more clearly, though, than the fact that when the White Stripes played the San Diego Street Scene on July 29, a recording of the show was posted on a download site before midnight — before many people who saw the show even got home.

"That's great," says White Stripes manager Ian Montone, himself a Grateful Dead fan. "I love it when people come in and tape and the shows take on an additional life when fans trade like that, when it's talked about and people can study the nuances of the shows. It adds to the lore and history."

In fact, Montone says that the band has fan taping to thank for preserving at least one special part of the band's history — when Jack White joined Bob Dylan for an encore at the latter's 2004 show in Detroit.

"Thank goodness someone taped that, because otherwise we wouldn't have it," he says.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America, the music industry's lobbying organization that staunchly opposes illegal downloading, piracy and the sale of bootleg recordings, says that it supports this kind of music trading as long as the artists approve.

Dan Healy, longtime concert and studio producer for the Dead, was one of the strongest advocates within the Dead organization not just to allow taping but to encourage it — resulting in their concerts being known for the seas of microphones on poles in a special section right in front of the sound board. Fans would then keep in touch through mailing lists and newsletters, exchanging tapes of the various concerts. The current cyberspace explosion is a fulfillment of the kind of community spirit Garcia stood for, he says.

"The more lines that are open, the more people will talk," says Healy. "That's a figure of speech, but what it means is the more readily transmutable the stuff is, the more people that always wanted to swap and trade will do it. The more conversations, the more swapping of music the better. If anything it makes it more special. It's like love — the more you use it, the stronger it gets"

And it is a community, or perhaps many interlocking communities, each with its own set of rules and ethics. Policies vary greatly from site to site. Some are anything-goes, but the ones that adhere most to the spirit of the Dead have strict regulations prohibiting anything commercially available or from artists who have not authorized such trading. The Traders' Den is among the latter.

"Nothing that is available commercially is allowed in any way, period," says one of the Traders' Den's administrators, who asked that he be identified only by his screen name, bill_kate. "There are a few bands that have expressed certain restrictions on how and what can be traded. We respect these wishes."

Brian Wilson is among the several dozen performers whose name appears on a "banned" list used by many sites' administrators. His views, though, were shaped not by circulation of concert tapes but of unauthorized releases that pieced together unfinished elements of his long-delayed "Smile" project, which he finally completed and released himself last year.

" 'Smile' was one of the most-bootlegged albums for many years," says Jean Sievers, Wilson's co-manager. "It wasn't a finished work and it wasn't what he wanted, and he was upset that people were taking those tapes and spreading his unfinished work over the globe."

Other rules that are widely followed, at least on the sites most in line with the Dead-spurred taping community, include asking users to put music files in forms with the highest possible audio fidelity, using "lossless" formats such as FLAC or SHNN rather than compressing the data to lower-fidelity MP3 files. Posters are also asked to provide as much information as possible about the sources of the recording and, if known, equipment used to record in the first place.

But one rule is most adamantly stated by administrators and users alike: The music is not to be sold.

"There is no money changing hands," says Kahle. "This was the ethos back in the day — you couldn't even charge for the cassette you dubbed music onto. People really stuck to that. What was interesting to me was the level of labor and love put in by everyone involved."

Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars (a band whose spirited blues-rooted shows are common in trading circles) says that, over the years, bootlegs — whether bought in stores or traded — played an important role in his music education.

"There's a bootleg film of the Allman Brothers," says the guitarist. "Something else I collected over the years is Bob Marley live stuff. That moves me more than even his regular records. And Jimi Hendrix, of course! Live Hendrix!"

Dickinson himself has not experienced the Internet side of this — he doesn't own a computer. But fans have routinely given him tapes and CDs they've made of his band's concerts.

"I have a collection of tapes people have given me, and to me that makes the 21 hours of the day that's spent off stage worthwhile," he says. "People care and have documented what we do and it makes it worthwhile."

In a twist, although the easy connections have increased availability of unofficial releases, they have pretty much killed the profiteering that long went on in that world, a form of piracy that has long been fought by the music business.

ICE magazine, a monthly that targets collectors, has long chronicled the "gray area" of bootlegging and says that the boom time for Internet sharing has brought sad times for that black market's profit-minded members — and a much harder hit than that anything the "real" music business is suffering because of bootlegging.

"There's no question that the wind has been taken out of the financial sails of the bootleg world by this free exchange," editor Pete Howard says. "Bootleg CDs used to be pressed in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, for each title. Now, though it's funny and ironic to hear the manufacturers moan and groan, no more than 500 copies is usual."

Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead continues to balance commerce and freedom. Despite so many recordings readily available on the Internet, the official releases of live albums continue at a steady pace, with the "Dick's Picks" series now standing at three dozen titles alone, complemented by other live releases, as well as a newer program of Garcia solo concert recordings. Many make the argument that one feeds the other.

"We've really hit on something with this community," says Internet Archive's Kahle. "And yeah, it all came from the Grateful Dead, and it will give them a long life. They're still selling stuff, and there are young kids involved. It is relevant."


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