Former punk John Doe on P2P, music labels, Radiohead
The X founder and U.S. punk rock scene pioneer says technology is good for music but people should pay for songs they download.
There's hardly a corner of the entertainment business John Doe hasn't explored.
He's not one of the people who waxes on about rights and wrongs in the music and film industries without any hands-on knowledge. The band Doe formed, X, was part of the first wave of punk rock bands that stormed Los Angeles in the late 1970s. The band's 1981 "Wild Gift" was named Album of the Year by Rolling Stone and The New York Times. Doe is also an actor and has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, including "Boogie Nights," "Roadhouse," and "CSI Miami."
Thirty years after founding X, Doe is churning out well-received country and folk albums on indie label Yep Roc Records, and has developed a love-hate relationship with technology. He appreciates how it can help simplify the recording process, but isn't a fan of the sound quality on many digital music players.
He also complains that file sharing hurts musicians. He thinks artists deserve to make a living.
Just weeks after the debut of his latest album, "Country Club," recorded with The Sadies, Doe agreed to speak with CNET News.
Q: How has technology changed the music industry?
Doe: Everything is more immediate and you can do things remotely. Anytime you can look backwards, you think everything was so naive back then. People still have vinyl. I think CDs are going to become more collectible because they hold a lot more information and they sound better than most of the files that you can get from iTunes and from people sharing stuff.
What do you think of file sharing and how do you think it impacts music?
Doe: I think that the music industry was asking for it and that's why they got smacked down. But I don't believe in music just being free because everybody deserves to make a living and it is intellectual property and you have to pay something for it. I think people that just share files and don't care and think "That's bull**** man, they're making plenty of money," never wrote a song and they never were proud of that song and feel as though they should get paid for it and things like that.
What did you mean that the music industry had it coming?
Doe: They stuck their heads in the sand. They spent too much money foolishly. A CD costs a $1 to make. Cassettes were $10 and CDs were $20...You sort of deserve it.
What do you mean music can be made remotely?
Doe: I get (drunk) and sort of put the whole process on remote...It's the drugs (laughter). I got to keep myself as heavily medicated as possible...really, The Sadies and I played a festival and we had a great time. They backed me up on a few of my songs. Kathleen Edwards was also there. I thought "Oh my god, this was a country record I could make." It wouldn't sound weak or too polished. My voice is sort of...it's a good voice but it's not a weird or distinctive voice so me with Nashville country backing would be a snooze. But me with The Sadies is exciting. A year later I went to Canada. We cranked out about 20 songs in maybe 10 days. I took files back to California, added a couple of people (to the tracks)...added some overdubs and (inaudible) mixed it in Toronto and sent me YouSendIt files, which I downloaded and then could play in Bakersfield, where I live, on my stereo through the computer.
It was a big file, just like the mix. I could play it on my stereo so I know what it sounds like and could call up and say, "Hey this is great. What if this thing here was better?" After a conversation or two, we could form four or five mixes and everybody was happy. And I didn't have to hang out in Toronto, which is a lovely city, for two weeks or 10 days while they mixed it.
And you wouldn't have been able to do that a decade ago?
Doe: Well, I guess you could have five years ago. You can do all kinds of things while they're mixing at the same time. You can go to a recording studio and sing to a track as it's being mixed across the country. There is all kinds of crazy stuff you can do. This was a poor man's version of that.
Some people argue that all music should be free and they have a right to music. Are they rationalizing or are they...
Doe: That's exactly what they're doing. I think they are foolish and young and haven't experienced what it's like to work for something and haven't suffered the pain, hardship it takes to create something. There is a really great movie that goes back to the 1970s called the "Festival Express." There was this visionary guy from Canada that took The Band and Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and maybe Gram Parsons on a train to Canada. This is right after Woodstock. And everyone at the gates was saying "This is bull****, $10?" And they broke down the gate and everybody got in for free and they did that at every one of these shows because a precedent had been set.
This guy lost his ass. He had a vision, an incredible vision, and because people were selfish and didn't want to spend $10 and said, "The man is sticking it to us..." Yeah the record companies have been sticking it to the public for a long time but it doesn't mean that the artist shouldn't get paid.
It's just the reality and you can't bitch about it even though I am a little bit. I think file sharing is great to expose people to music but eventually you should pay for it. I do.
What do you think of the efforts by Trent Reznor and Radiohead to find a new model for the music industry?
Doe: I think they're dozens and dozens of people who are doing that on a small level and on a big level. It's catering to the super fan. All the value-added stuff is worthwhile. I don't have the discipline or the organizational skills to have my own label but I take my hat off to anyone who does. Radiohead does that. Aimee Mann does that. Dozens of punk bands do that. It's a good idea, especially if you have a fan base that's going to pay for that stuff.
Tell me about your experience with record labels?
Doe: They do serve a purpose. But they need to have business skill as well as a love of music. That's kind of rare. I'm still really happy with Yep Roc (recording label). The only thing I would change in any label is to have their accounting practices more transparent so when they send you an accounting you can actually follow it. No, labels aren't bad. But I think major labels in the past were foolish and did take advantage of their artists.
Do you think that will change?
Doe: I don't think it has, no. I think they are still trying to get the super home run, "Thriller," Britney Spears, bazillion selling records...I'm just glad I don't have to deal with that anymore.
Update 2 p.m. PDT: Billboard is reporting that X may release some new songs.