Deadheads Up in Arms About MP3 Bait-and-Switch

While, as of this writing, 132 YouTube fans have complained about the site’s decision to add ads to YouTube videos, another rant-fest is occurring at the official Grateful Dead web site. For several months, the Dead site has been offering a weekly selection of free MP3 files of live Dead songs on it’s Taper’s Section. This name refers to the area in arenas and theaters where Deadheads could set up mikes and record Dead concerts in the past. Now, it’s being used to promote the band’s music through weekly nuggets of previously released or unreleased songs.

However, starting this week, this music is no longer available in MP3 format, but only in streaming mode. In addition, this streaming simply doesn’t work for many users. Deadheads, who came to the site to get their weekly fix, are railing about the decision. As of this writing, there are some 40 pages of comments, or about 400 posts to this week’s delivery – all negative – from Deadheads far and wide who are more than disappointed by the band’s decision to stop providing music for free. This follows a decision last year to no longer allow to host soundboard recordings of Dead shows, which caused an uproar among the Deadhead community. Part of the problem is that the Grateful Dead, when they existed, would allow people to record their music, saying that once they played the music, it no longer belonged to them. Naturally, this is contrary to the current lawyer-induced model of music marketing, where labels have to squeeze out every penny they can to make money. But as many of the comments to this week’s Taper’s Section point out, many of the people who were downloading this music own large collections of Dead albums, from studio albums to the dozens of official live concert releases and DVDs. So by snuffing out a few free MP3s, Rhino, the label who is now handling the Grateful Dead’s legacy, is pissing off thousands of highly loyal fans.

I, too, have dozens of Dead albums, and in recent years, because of the increased availability of Dead shows both by trading over the Internet, downloading from traders, and from new official releases, I’ve been listening to more Grateful Dead than ever before. (Okay, I might have listened a bit more in the late 70s, when I could see them live a few times a year…) This current decision makes no sense, because these free downloads were great loss-leaders; they tempted lots of Deadheads to purchase CDs and downloads that they might otherwise ignored. No matter what happens, the Deadhead community is, once again, treated with disrespect and derision by big business. Record companies have never been able to understand the Deadhead ethos, and they’re not trying to now.