Wednesday, June 29, 2005

fyi After Grokster: why (almost) everything we're told about P2P is wrong


Pointer to article:

Kobielus kommentary:
Actually, the first rule of punditry is the dissemination imperative: unpublished punditry is mere self-stimulation.

That’s the first rule for all media products: get the word/song/movie/software/etc out there so people can be aware of it, access it, and consume it. The second rule is, if you can, find some way of getting paid for it. But the second rule is optional. The first is essential.

Which is why blogs have taken off in such a big way. It’s how we the self-appointed pundits disseminate our words, though most of us don’t make a dime directly from our punditry. I have it a bit better than most pundits. I also have steady freelance work from Network World (almost 18 years running, hard to believe—thanks John G., John D., Susan C., Neal W., etc.) and Business Communications Review (now in the third year of that gig, thanks to Fred K., Eric K., and Sandy B.). With pundits, as with professors, it’s “publish or perish [in spirit and/or cerebrum, if nothing else].”

I’ve been holding off on punditizing on the P2P phenomenon for a simple reason: many others have done a fine job of dissecting the phenomenon and I have felt I don’t have much fresh insight to contribute to the discussion. Maybe that’s false modesty on my part, but some topics are so overdone in the blogosphere that the last thing I want is to pitch in my semi-interesting observations into the general din.

But I’ll do that anyway. I just want to tie my thoughts to a recent experience that proved out the power of P2P to provide some artists with a decent living in spite of having been shut out of mainstream success. I hate to re-introduce the band Wilco into the discussion, considering that the likes of Lawrence Lessig and others have seized on Jeff Tweedy and associates as exemplars of artists who have loosened up on uptight copyrights in order to get their works disseminated to fans and interested parties.

But I have to ring the Wilco bell again. This past Sunday I attended my first rock concert in a long long time, and it was—guess who—Wilco, at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia MD. My son and I are big Wilco fans, and we bought their two latest albums, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost is Born.” I used to go to concerts all the time during my prime years of 1975-1985 (I’m 46 now), but slacked off after I got married and started collaborating on baby production with a certain lady.

As regards Wilco, I know precisely how I got hooked on them. I started listening to the streaming web radio station KEXP ( in early 2002, soon after I got my first DSL connection at home. KEXP (a public radio station in Seattle—free to access and groove to continuously) is the most awesome, eclectic radio station I’ve ever come across, and I soon got addicted to their brilliant mix of (mostly) new and (well-selected, like the new) older music from every conceivable genre. Needless to say, they’ve long been big Wilco champions, play tons of the Chicago group’s stuff, and it was only a matter of time before I got hooked on Wilco.

But I never quite knew how my (now 18 year old) son got hooked on Wilco. Until recently, he never listened to KEXP or any other streaming web radio station. And they certainly don’t play Wilco on the local radio stations in the DC area where we live. And I’ve never seen a Wilco video on music television. But he (Jason) was the one who took the initiative to buy both Wilco albums that we own.

On Sunday night, I heard Jason mention to his girlfriend (yes, I, old fogey, was essentially the chaperone at this event, and I was at least 10-15 years older that most other attendees) that he first read about Wilco from some website, and then downloaded a Wilco song from some P2P community, and then got hooked.

Ohhhhhhhh! We both got hooked on Wilco through free content distributed over the Internet. As I looked around at the packed audience for the Wilco concert on Sunday, I realized that most of these other DC-area people probably got hooked on Wilco the same way. And I’m sure many of them have bought the legit CDs of Wilco’s albums at local stores. And, now, they’re attending a Wilco concert, further sustaining Wilco’s musical career.

At one point in the (brilliant, and more hard-rocking than their brilliant recordings) Sunday show, Wilco singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy announced to the crowd: “Brace yourselves now for a cavalcade of our hit.” (note the singular “hit”). And then they played “Heavy Metal Drummer” from “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (I don’t actually recall ever hearing that great song on any radio station, but I’ll give Jeff the benefit of the doubt).

How can a “hitless” radio-unplayed rock band sustain a long-lasting (10 years +) and lucrative career? Dissemination. Get the music out there, first and foremost, through any means. Money will follow, through various means, if you’re willing to work it hard, as Wilco has done. They could stay a touring band now for the rest of their lives (like the Grateful Dead, or, I suspect, the Pixies are turning into), thanks to the fanbase they’ve built up from P2P.

So thank you Internet community for this revolutionary technology that fills our lives with great music. And don’t worry about how the artists will get paid. The best of them will figure that out, by hook or crook, as they themselves hook into a fanbase.

And thank you Wilco. You’re a classic. And I hope you get at least one monster hit in your careers before you yourselves experience that touch of grey.