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Roger McGuinn on MP3.Com

Wednesday, July 12, 2000 by Dave Winer.

The Byrds Permalink to The Byrds

Yesterday I watched the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, on C-SPAN, of people on all sides of the controversy about Napster and music on the Internet.

I was surprised to learn how far another innovator, MP3.Com, had bent to accomodate the music industry, by providing a way for people who had legally purchased CDs to gain immediate access to the music over the Web. The CEO of MP3.Com, Michael Robertson, gave a compelling demo, and was backed by the testimony of Roger McGuinn, founder of the Byrds, a popular band of the 1960s.

From there, I went to McGuinn's MP3.Com site, found his email address, rm@mcguinn.com, sent him a message, and got a response.

It's important to understand the music business from the artist's point of view. We've heard from the industry, and there are plenty of vocal fans, here's one of the founders of rock and roll, Roger McGuinn.

Roger McGuinn on MP3.Com Permalink to Roger McGuinn on MP3.Com

Hello, my name is Roger McGuinn. My experience in the music business began in 1960 with my recording of "Tonight In Person" on RCA Records. I played guitar and banjo for the folk group the "Limeliters." I subsequently recorded two albums with the folk group, the "Chad Mitchell Trio." I toured and recorded with Bobby Darin and was musical director of Judy Collins' third album. In each of those situations I was not a royalty artist, but a musician for hire.

My first position as a royalty artist came in 1964 when I signed a recording contract with Columbia Records as the leader of the folk-rock band the "Byrds." During my tenure with the Byrds I recorded over fifteen albums. In most cases a modest advance against royalties was all the money I received for my participation in these recording projects.

In 1973 my work with the Byrds ended. I embarked on a solo recording career on Columbia Records, and recorded five albums. The only money I've received for these albums was the modest advance paid prior to each recording.

In 1977 I recorded three albums for Capitol Records in the group "McGuinn Clark and Hillman." Even though my song "Don't You Write Her Off" was a top 40 hit, the only money I received from Capitol Records was in the form of a modest advance.

In 1989 I recorded a solo CD, "Back From Rio", for Arista Records. This CD sold approximately 500,000 copies world wide, and aside from a modest advance, I have received no royalties from that project.

The same is true of my 1996 recording of "Live From Mars" for Hollywood Records. In all cases the publicity generated by having recordings available and promoted on radio, created an audience for my live performances. My performing work is how I make my living. Even though I've recorded over twenty-five records, I cannot support my family on record royalties alone.

In 1994 I began making recordings of traditional folk songs that I'd learned as a young folk singer. I was concerned that these wonderful songs would be lost. The commercial music business hasn't promoted traditional music for many years. These recordings were all available for free download on my web site http://mcguinn.com/ on the Internet.

In 1998 an employee of MP3.com heard the folk recordings and invited me to place them on MP3.com. They offered an unheard of, nonexclusive recording contract, with a royalty rate of 50% of the gross sales. I was delighted by this youthful and uncommonly fair approach to the recording industry. MP3.com not only allowed me to place these songs on their server, but also offered to make CDs of these songs for sale. They absorbed all the packaging and distribution costs. Not only is MP3.com an on-line record distributor, it is also becoming the new radio of the 21st Century!

So far I have made thousands of dollars from the sale of these folk recordings on MP3.com, and feel privileged to be able to use MP3s and the Internet as a vehicle for my artistic expression. MP3.com has offered me more artistic freedom than any of my previous relationships with mainstream recording companies. I think this avenue of digital music delivery is of great value to young artists, because it's so difficult for bands to acquire a recording contract. When young bands ask me how to get their music heard, I always recommend MP3.com.

Roger McGuinn

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