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Last Updated: Friday, 8 April 2005, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Country rock star praises net for success
US country-rock group Wilco's lead singer Jeff Tweedy has criticised the music industry's negative attitude to the internet, saying it is "nothing to be afraid of".

Jeff Tweedy
Wilco turned to the web after being dropped by their label in 2002
In an industry that has often blamed the internet for falling sales and "stolen" royalties, Wilco have defied the doomsayers and used the net to their advantage.

The group have gone from strength to strength since making their fourth studio album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, available online for free in 2002.

"It's just new technology, and it's nothing to be afraid of," Tweedy tells the BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme.

"People are going to abuse it - they are going to pirate music, they always have done - but it's the same thing as tape.

"Cassette tapes were going to ruin music. If you go far enough back, the radio was going to ruin music."

Wilco embraced the internet when their record label Reprise rejected Yankee Hotel Foxtrot because it was "not commercial enough".

When we streamed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I don't think we'd even made money from records
Jeff Tweedy
Shortly afterwards, Wilco were dropped altogether. The group bought the album back from Reprise and streamed it on the internet for free, prompting around 200,000 people to download it.

But when they finally released the album on CD, they found sales had not been hit by the experiment.

Instead, they had been boosted and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot became their best-selling album.

They then did the same for their latest release, A Ghost Is Born - which went on to sell more than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The group now regularly post free tracks, remixes and live concert recordings on their website.

It's a really wonderful way to keep a relationship going with an audience
Jeff Tweedy
"People respond to our music - it became a grass roots thing, a word-of-mouth thing," Tweedy says.

"I don't know how I'd feel if I was in a band that couldn't play live, or had no connection to a live audience.

"But Wilco has pretty much been built around a live audience - that's how we supported ourselves. Most of our income over the years has come from performing.

"So when we streamed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I don't think we'd even made money from records.

"To us, it was really no difference - as long as people were hearing our music, they might want to come to the show and see the music, see the band."

CD 'artefacts'

Tweedy also says the group found there was "no perceptible difference" between touring after the release of a new album on the internet and a normal release.

"If one person figures out how to put [an album] onto a computer, pretty much anybody can have it," he adds.

"It's a really wonderful way to keep a relationship going with an audience that isn't dependent upon a record coming out every two years."

But he also says he still likes "putting out artefacts" and many people who download the record also go out and buy it when it comes out on CD.


The internet acts as both a library and a radio for the group, Tweedy says - as they do not get much conventional radio play.

"On the internet, people have an opportunity to check out our music," he adds.

"I think what the industry is really most afraid of is the fact that people can hear their product before they buy it, and discover that it's not very good in a lot of cases.

"That's terrifying to them."


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