Steal your Face: Yet another corporate logo

The Grateful Dead ended up with a nice business by taking a very liberal view of their own intellectual property. They let fans tape shows directly off the soundboards at their concerts. These recordings were traded by mail and in person, and, in recent years, on the net.

The result of their whole relationship with their audience, of which this was emblematic, was thaty they built a large and dedicated following despite the fact that their commercial recordings never sold particularly well. At a time when touring was generally a break-even affair, justified on promotional grounds, the Dead’s tours were highly profitable undertakings, both for the band itself, and the large secondary economy of camp followers who provided a wide range of goods and services at their shows.

The Dead were often viewed as a prototype of what a successful musical group would look like post-Napster, which makes recent news that the heirs to the Grateful Dead dynasty (Jerry Garcia’s widow and one or more former members of the band) “forced the removal of over 1000 soundboard recordings hosted by the Internet Archive”: particularly disappointing.

(*Note:* I am really just repeating gossip here. I don’t know that it’s well substantiated who is behind this decision)

This move may or may not improve the market for “official” recordings in the short run, but I can’t imagine it’s going to help the long term value of the band’s legacy. The Dead were probably always much shrewder businessmen than many their fans would like to accept, but they maintained a light touch which didn’t interfere with the fans appreciation of the whole communal countercultural experience around their shows.

Moves like this are going to make it hard for fans to see the red-white-and-blue lightning bolt-in-cranium of the Dead’s “Steal Your Face” logo as anything but, as one commenter put it “another corporate logo.” Most anyone predisposed to pay for Grateful Dead recordings and merchandise because of what they were as a band and a cultural force seem particularly unlikely to want to support what it’s becoming as an undead and undying corporate entity.

Of course, I shouldn’t underestimate modern american marketing, considering how many people believe paying tens of thousands of dollars for a Harley Davidson motorcycle, or buying any Harley Davidson licensed merchandise, somehow makes them anything other than yet another corporate brand-whore.

On the whole, this is probably a big vote in favor of post-Napster band business models because it shows that a band who never sold a lot of albums can build a legacy worth enough to be corrupted hamfisted attempts to maximize profits.

via “the sellouts at BoingBoing”:

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