According to Grateful Dead spokesman Dennis McNally, the removal on November 22 of all downloadable Dead recordings from archive.org was the result of “a great communication snafu.”
“It is my understanding that by the end of the day, the audience tapes will be restored to archive.org,” McNally said by phone. Soundboard recordings will also be available streaming only.
“We at archive.org now realize that our mistaken attempts to move quickly were based on what we thought the Grateful Dead wanted,” the site’s administrators said in a public statement. “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.”
Although there is a reversal here, do note that it is not a full reversal. Those precious soundboard tapes which have a newfound financial value as paid downloads will no longer be available for free. As Dead spokesman McNally told the AP:
The soundboard recordings are “very much part of their legacy, and their rights need to be protected.”
With concert tickets now removed as a source of revenue, sales of the band’s music and other merchandise have become increasingly important in an age where music is distributed digitally instead of on CDs, vinyl and cassette tapes.
And the arrival of Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes online music store, and other similar sites, means free downloads can be seen as competition, said Marc Schiller, chief executive of Electricartists, which helps musicians market themselves online.
The band sells music on iTunes and exclusive shows through its Web site.
“When the music was given away for free to trade, the band was making so much money touring that the music was not as valuable to them,” Schiller said. “Apple iTunes has made digital downloads a business.”
And, frankly, keeping the audience tapes free and available is a damn good marketing strategy. With better quality soundboard recordings available to buy, a fan might hear an audience recording of a show and think, “great version of Dark Star, but I sure wish the sound quality was better.” Now, a better quality version can be had.
Think of the audience recording as the free version of a web service, and the sounboard recording as the paid upgrade. In essence, all those audience recordings are like advertisements for the soundboard downloads.
The Dead can’t give up that steady income, can they?