Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Archive vs. The Vault

     So a question has popped up recently that I think is worth discussing: how do I (we) get music these days (and is it fair to the artists)?  I've previously discussed my slight obsession with the Internet Archive and their slew of Dead recordings, but I never really compared them to the official releases and my relation to them.  I definitely have a slew of the official releases, but not all of them came to me because I went on dead.net to order a specific release.  In fact, only a few of them came to me this way; so have I been fair to the band?

     Well we need to remember that the Dead community has always been...well, very communal.  We are all friends in the music, and if someone has a recording that someone wants, it's common sense to share it.  In the days of tape trading, the only real rule (as I've gathered after the fact, so correct me if I'm wrong) is that no one should be getting or giving money for copies of the tapes.  So the archive and it's wide collection of the Dead's shows, does not detract form the band or the members' wallets...does it?

     Again, no.  Or at lest not really, in the grand scheme of things.  All (most) of the shows that the Dead have released officially, even partial shows, are unavailable on the archive in their soundboard forms.  Some of the shows you can find audience tapes of for free download, but there is a definite sacrifice in quality.  When a new release is announced, like new Dave's Picks or box sets, there is an indeterminate period of time in which one can get the soundboard from the archive before it's deleted, but this is not necessarily a replacement for the official release.  If anything, hearing a whatever-generation soundboard makes me want to hear the official release even more (although things can be lost or gained in mixing).  I'll admit I didn't buy the first few Dave's Picks, having found them on the archive instead; but I wish I had bought them now, because even if it's just for a few seconds, any bad cut or patch in the archive version drives me crazy.  What did I miss, what if Phil started singing scat while Bobby played the fiddle?!  Outrageous, yes - but impossible, no!

     But I'm getting off-track here.  The official releases are invaluable for true collectors and Dead Heads.  While the Vault is infamously lacking (no Barton Hall, really?), it also has surprises that no one would guess.  Dave's Picks 4 and 6 both feature material that you will not find on the archive, or anywhere else that I know of.  There's also something special about an official release, because it's more-or-less certified by the band (or at least their current management) to be in the upper echelon of their performances.  While we may not all agree with some of the released songs or shows, there's still that sense that it has been handed down from on high.  Dave Lemieux, the Dead's archivist and namesake of the Dave's Picks series, also makes them a bit personal with his "seaside chats," which, while a bit rambling, really make the case for each release.

     So do I buy the releases?  Sometimes.  Usually I'll buy older ones where the price has gone down since the release, but I haven't bought a new release at all.  This is mainly because I haven't had to, because my dad has already bought them before I've had the chance...or money.  One of my first Dead Head friends in college also had most of the Dick's Picks series, so I only had to buy some of the ones he didn't have to fill in the gaps I thought needed filling in.  Why would I buy a new copy when my dad or my friend has a perfectly good one he can share with me?  For the band?  Well, if you ask me, they're doing just fine.  I don't mean that in a callus, selfish way, although in may sound like it.  What I mean is that Phil, Bobby, Billy, and Mickey all have their own things going on, and I pay to see as much of that as I can.  These releases are mainly to keep the Grateful Dead experience going, to share the love and excitement of the music with as many people as possible over time.  By sharing these official releases, we're not robbing the band or preventing them from making money, we're ensuring the continuation of releases by increasing the amount of people with access to great recordings of great shows.

     Now I'm going off on a sudden tangent here, but I can't help it.  I think that the next official release they come out with, besides the continuation of Dave's Picks, should be an expansion on the idea of Fallout From the Phil Zone.  Phil had picked out all of the songs on this album because he thought they were exceptional instances of Grateful Dead music; and I think they should have all of the remaining band members come up with their own.  I think that the results would involve recordings from different eras with different styles and feelings going on, and that they would give a new perspective on the music.  They've all been pretty distant from the project of releasing material for pretty common sense reasons: they already played those shows, why do them again?  But I think seeing and hearing what each player thinks were the band's strongest moments will give all of them and each of us deeper insight to the experience as a whole.  Fallout From the Phil Zone was pretty eclectic, even for the Dead!  It included Bobby rockers, a Dylan song from '95, a good amount of Pig Pen, some semi-acoustic Dead, and some primal, wall-melting-universe-encompassing psychedelia.  Imagine what his next take would be, let alone Bobby's or either drummers!  We might end up with 3 more versions of Samson & Delilah, but if they're good then who cares!

     So I don't know if I answered the original question or not.  Well let me try to summarize my approach to acquiring new music, and see if that does it.  I will pay whatever money I have for good music, but if I can get it for free in a manner that I don't believe hurts musicians or the music, then I will.  I will also share my music with anyone who asks nicely, friends, casual acquaintance, or friendly stranger with a flash drive handy.  This stands for anything unrelated to the Dead as well, but if you'd believe it, most of the time I'm doing this it's Dead-related.  I'm actually planning a little gathering of friends in Ithaca who are Dead Heads or of a harmonious mind-set, so let me know if you want to stop by!  We can even discuss the moral implications of the sharing if you want, but I'd rather listen to and share good music with good people; and isn't that what this is all about, making the world just slightly better with this music?


  1. I listen to a lot of artists, have a lot of purchased CDs, donate to local college stations I listen to, and also have a lot of music given to me by friends that I haven't "paid for." In addition I go to a lot of live shows, and often buy my CDs direct from the artist. At the last few Furthur shows I've gone to I've bought the recording at the show from Gnomes and Hobbits. I have no twinges of conscience as to whether I'm on the right or wrong side of the economic equation. I think you shouldn't have any twinges either: you spend what money you can on music and you proselytize it.

  2. There was a saying in the 80s that "home taping is killing music" or something like that. I always thought the opposite -- if I could sample an artist by recording my friend's LP, I might (and very often did) end up buying product from that artist and/or going to their live shows. In my experience, sharing only opens up the game for artists. But not everyone is like me or you. Some folks just gobble up whatever they can get for free and spend zero money. I don't have any idea what the demographics are. I do get the sense from folks in the industry that the biz is suffering.

    1. It's hard to tell really; there are convincing arguments from both sides, and both can frame the opposing argument as mere justification for their actions, be they downloads or lawsuits.