A Chicago DJ caught heat for playing an unauthorized copy of the White Stripes upcoming album. Whose side are the city's record labels on?
On May 30, Q101 played the forthcoming White Stripes album, Icky Thump in its entirety—more than two weeks before its Tuesday 19 release date. The station acquired it via a file-sharing site, and reportedly notified Warner Brothers that they were going to play it. Two hours after DJ Electra played the pirated copy on her show, she got a call from the band’s frontman Jack White, who berated her and accused her of hurting the music industry. Her blog (djelectra.blogspot.com) has her take on the phone call and reactions from listeners: Some say Electra was right in trying to get people excited about the album, and that the band should be grateful; others see the move as unethical and disrespectful to the musicians. We asked some local record label heads what they think about the icky, er sticky, situation.
Bettina Richards, Thrill Jockey
“It happens to everybody…the day after we mail promos we start seeing it [online], like with the new Sea and Cake. You could drive yourself crazy trying to stop it. Q101 picking up the album seems to be a little different from an individual who may or may not know the rules. [But] leaks can get people excited, and it’s especially good for people who aren’t dying from overexposure…if Q101 wants to play the whole Daniel Higgs album—dig in! We stream our releases on our website, and a person would be able to bootleg that, but the risk of that versus people being able to hear it and say, ‘Wow, I like this,’ and go pick it up—I think the benefits outweigh the negatives.”
Bob Koester, Delmark
“Well, the White Stripes won’t have to press that one. We’ve had radio people play a whole album, and we take them off our sample list...that takes away 10 to 20 in sales right there. [Downloading and burning] has cut my [blues and jazz records retail] business in half, and my record company lost $400,000 over the last five years. Collectors come in and yell to each other, ‘No don’t buy that, I’ll burn it for you!’ We have old records and if they don’t sell well, you don’t reissue if you run out of copies—you maybe reissue it later; we’re putting out a 1957 recording with clarinet player Norman Mason. To keep the label active, we’ve been shooting live performances—you can bootleg DVDs, but it’s a little harder to do so.”
Bruce Iglauer, Alligator
“Everyone is struggling for radio play—maybe 999 out of 1,000 records never get on commercial radio. Ideally, Jack White would’ve wanted it played at the official release date the label set, but all airplay is good airplay. I wouldn’t oppose it if you gave me an hour of radio time—we’d kill for five minutes. The only commercial radio station in Chicago we can look to for any regular radio play—like our release of Koko Taylor, a Chicagoan, featuring Chicago-style blues music—is WXRT. WBEZ is cutting back on their music programming, so the Chicago market is severly hurt. In the old days, records used to be broken locally. There’s more music getting released than ever—but there’s less and less music being played…music is getting more homogenous nationwide.”
Nan Warshaw, Bloodshot
“I wish that was my problem. As an indie label, commercial radio play [is] not generally our goal, but we have a few releases a year that, sonically, would fit in, [like] the Detroit Cobras record that came out a couple weeks ago. But a station’s decision to add a record into rotation is not based [solely] on sound or quality of the music. Unless you’re throwing tons of money at a radio promotion campaign, you don’t stand a chance at commercial radio play. There are great exceptions in Chicago—like the local and new releases [radio] programs; when DJs have a chance to pick music themselves, they do support local acts. I think the early air play was a problem for Jack White because it wasn’t part of the promotional plan. Promoters try to get stations to add the record at the same time—that creates chart position. To me, the current demise of the music industry has little to do with a record leaked early to radio. Instead, most of it is caused by major labels and the big-box retail chains that are in cahoots with each other, through exclusive releases and below-market pricing that have forced hundreds of independent stores out of business.”
Rian Murphy, Drag City
“When the Joanna Newsom album got out, we just got on eBay and said, ‘Stop selling this CD, its release is two months away!’ The [publicity from illegal downloading] is not a bad thing—if it happens in a limited way…it probably helped that Joanna didn’t bitch someone out. Once you go through it enough, you mellow out a bit, which is why I’m surprised by Jack White. The problem is when you’re working on shit for the world to hear, you enter into a risky area where they hear it on their own terms…[but] Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was one of their most well-received albums, and [people first heard] shitty MP3s. I got a bootleg once of Prince’s unreleased Black Album, a taped copy of a taped copy…it was super-fast, and we’re like, What is Prince doing, this is crazy! Later, I heard [a more accurate copy], and it didn’t sound as freaky and awesome as those bootlegs.”
James Kenler, Flameshovel
“That seems like something orchestrated by the record company. Jack White calling from Spain? Intense. A local college in Berkeley leaked the Sgt. Pepper album [which created more interest]—it’s something that’s been going on forever. The White Stripes are already touring and playing—are they as worried about bootlegging? If [Q101] had burned 1,000 copies and sold them, or handed them out for free, or posted a link on Q101’s website, they’d be more obviously culpable. It comes down to trying to control the product…we release tracks, recently for Narrator and the Race, to get press… But if you’re trying to micromanage something, making it appear to be developing organically—there’s an inherent problem in that.”