Industry Profile: Tony Margherita
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Tony Margherita, president of Tony Margherita Management, and chief operating officer of dBpm Records.
Since its formation in 1994, Chicago indie titans Wilco have released a slew of acclaimed albums, a full-order of side projects, and several parcels of leaked, streamed selections online.
The band's last studio album, “Wilco (The Album),” was released in 2009 on Nonesuch Records.
The tale of how Wilco landed at Nonesuch is well-documented in Sam Jones’ 2001 documentary film "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” which showed the band struggling with turmoil at its former record label Reprise Records, which hadn’t been impressed with the band's proposed 4th Reprise album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
The documentary chronicles the band's stormy departure from Reprise, and its subsequent signing to Nonesuch.
Wilco’s departure from Nonesuch nearly a decade later ends on a more upbeat note—at least where its new album “The Whole Love” is concerned, as the album—recorded and self-produced in their home Chicago studio, The Loft—is being released Sept. 27th by the band’s own record company, dBpm Records.
dBpm Records is being distributed and marketed through the L.A.-based independent label Anti- Records, a subsidiary of Epitaph Records.
Wilco is a natural fit at Anti- which has a roster that includes Mavis Staples, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Buju Banton, Merle Haggard Joe Henry, and Tinariwen.
Wilco’s longtime manager, Tony Margherita cites last year’s experience of working with Mavis Staples on her Grammy Award-winning album “You Are Not Alone” which Tweedy produced, as leading to the decision to work with Anti-.
Margherita is operating dBpm Records from his office in Easthampton, Mass., along with overseeing such other management clients as trumpet player Dave Douglas, and Baseball Project.
You are basically in the Wilco business.
That is the way I tend to look at it. We do other things here, but I do tend to look at it that way, yes. We are peripherally in the music business—whatever that means—but, at the end of the day, yes, we are in the Wilco business as sort of an adjunct to the music business. It skirts the edges of the music business, but it encompasses a lot of different things.
Almost everybody in the band has a side project.
Yeah, they all do a lot of stuff. Jeff (Tweedy) produced the Mavis Staples’ record ("You Are Not Alone"). Everybody works on a lot of other projects. There’s a lot of things going on in 'Wilco world' all of the time. Everybody is feeling good. I think the new record (“The Whole Love”) is great. We will see what the world thinks in another few weeks or so.
[Mavis Staples won her first Grammy Award in 2011 for “You Are Not Alone,” her Jeff Tweedy produced-album. The soul legend was overcome by emotion as she accepted the award, thanking Tony Margherita and Jeff Tweedy for their help.]
You do work with other acts.
We manage Dave Douglas, a trumpet player. We do a lot work with him here, and we help with his label. We also do the Baseball Project with Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey on Yep Roc—rock and roll songs about baseball.
[When the first Baseball Project album, “Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails,” was released in 2008 Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon and Peter Buck had yet to play as a unit in front of an audience. But playing throughout the U.S. throughout 2009 allowed the band to complete its new album “High and Inside,” released March 1, 2011, in under two days.]
“The Whole Love” is being released Sept. 27th (2011). How do you keep a fan base interested in a band that has released seven studio albums?
I can only speak about my work with Wilco. I think that it’s easier with a band like Wilco that doesn’t repeat itself—that doesn’t make the same record seven times over, or a variation on the same record. I also think that you have to work very hard. You have to (as a band) work really hard on the road, and you have to be great. We made a decision a long time ago, in connection with Frank Riley—the band’s booking agent (from High Road Touring) who has been working with the band 15, almost 20 years—to take a slightly different approach than most bands do. We put Wilco in, I don’t know, how many markets. I should count up the number of markets in the U.S. we’ve been. We go way into tertiary and beyond more than most people do. (Our tour dates are) just not one of the top 30 or 40 markets where you repeat the cycle each time. Name a market, and Wilco probably played there.
[After announcing their new LP “The Whole Love” and kicking off a two-month tour, Wilco have added a second leg of shows to their schedule. The band will be returning to the U.S. in November to tour the Midwest.
Likely highlights of the tour include a two-night Ryman Auditorium stint in Nashville on Oct. 1 and 2; and the christening of the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, formerly Keil Opera House, a few miles from their first-ever performance as a band at Cicero's Basement Bar in 1994. Wilco will perform there on Oct. 4.]
How are you setting up this new record?
Their tour starts on Sept. 13th in Indianapolis (at the Murat Theatre). We have done a few super low budget videos. We have been doing a lot more online social meeting stuff. Wilco is going to be on (David) Letterman right before the record comes out. They are doing this “Live on Letterman” thing (a concert series) the same night. There’s a bunch of this stuff. We are not inventing the wheel. The band is going to get out there, and play shows. We have been doing a lot of press over the last month which will be showing up pretty soon.
One advantage that you have now is that Wilco is a notable brand.
Yeah, I’m not sure that it is necessarily by design, but I guess it sort of is. Wilco has a really good reputation for providing value for a ticketing dollar. People go to a Wilco show, and there is a joy in what Wilco does and a seriousness and a lot of other things. People walk out feeling like they got their money’s worth. That’s a big, big, big thing.
I think that if you are smart about what you do, get out there, do it well and take it seriously every night like you owe something to your audience, you get it back in spades.
A predominantly male audience for Wilco still?
Yes, but not as predominantly male as it used to be.
Wilco still plays a lot of U.S. markets where big name bands don’t generally go.
Yeah, and we have been doing it for a really long time.
Wilco makes very good money in those smaller markets.
That’s true. The thing is that the band likes to tour. Wilco has always made its living primarily on the road. That’s how everybody in the band, the crew, and the entire Wilco family operation—whatever you want to call it—sort of funds itself. It is a little different now because we have diversified (the business) somewhat. It’s not 100% reliant on (touring), but it is a giant portion of what Wilco does, and what pays for everything else.
But the fact that Wilco does play Rochester, Minnesota or wherever, enables them also to tour a lot without beating any particular market into the ground. That is a mistake that a lot of people make. You play in New York or Chicago or St. Louis or whatever six or 10 times in two years, some of the excitement starts to wear off both for the audience, and for a band.
In working with the same agent for so many years, what is it that you and Frank Riley share?
There is both a cynicism and enthusiasm for trying new things; a willingness to be creative; and keeping the long term, and the medium term picture in view. Not just, “What is the gross going to be this week or this month?” It is, “What is this going to mean two years from now? What do we want to do next summer?” and all of that stuff. Frank and I have been doing this together for so long that we tend to know what the other one is going to say, but we have to run through it anyway.
Frank also booked Uncle Tupelo?
How often are you on the road with Wilco?
I always go on the road with the band. It’s going to be interesting how I approach it this time because I haven’t really thought about it too much because I have just been dealing with everything we have been dealing with. But I go out on every tour for some dates, whether four, six, eight, or 10 days or two weeks. I try not to only go to L.A. or New York.
On the road, how do you handle your day-to-day office work?
It’s tough. You have to hunker down in hotel rooms, and try to get a lot of work done in a very short amount of time. But no matter how hard you try, you aren’t quite as productive as you are when you are in your office. However, if you don’t go out on the road and spend real time out there, you really don’t know what’s going on. You got to get out there, and feel it on the road.
You have to hang with the band, and see the promoters.
All of that—and meet fans. Just picking up the vibe in the room when the band walks on the stage is really, really important. I have always done it (gone on tour) and I will always do it even if I have to redouble my efforts when I get home to catch up. It’s indispensable.
How do you handle overseas touring?
We spend a lot of time in Europe. The band will do multiple tours of Europe on this record. They have a tour over there this year. They are booked by Paul Boswell of Free Trade (Agency) out of London. We’ve got one tour of a couple of weeks that hits a bunch of major cities. Then we come back, and do more dates in the U.S. There will be another European tour early in 2012. The band is going to be hitting it pretty hard for 12 to 18 months.
How global is Wilco?
They have done Australia many times. They have probably been to Japan four or five times. We just came back from doing Fuji Rock there not that long ago (July 31, 2011). They have been to Latin America once or twice.
International touring is expensive.
Oh yeah. It is difficult. Your profit margin is not going to be as big, and you have to be a lot more careful. It is very easy not to make any money. It is damn expensive getting people and gear moved back and forth. At any given time, the (U.S.) dollar might be a problem. There are a lot of factors that you have to consider.
Did Jeff producing Mavis Staples lead to you placing dBpm Records with Anti- Records which she records for?
Yeah, that pretty much sealed the deal. We knew Andy Kaulkin (Anti- Record’s president) for quite a long time. We even had conversations with him around the time of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (in 2001); our paths kept crossing over a period of 10 or 15 years. We have always felt good about what they did. We liked the label, and liked the music that they put out, and liked their approach. Doing that Mavis Staples’ record, we were involved not just in the making of the record which happened in Wilco’s studio in Chicago and Jeff produced it, but we were also somewhat involved in the marketing of the record because Jeff did a lot of press.
So we had day-to-day contact with the label in a way that we never had before. I think that everybody (here) was just impressed with the job that they did. It just became a natural progression (to go there). We knew we were going to start dBpm, and we wanted it to be our thing, but we also knew that we can’t do everything on our own. We only have seven people, and we don’t want to do everything. Regardless, we were going to be taking on new things.
Why not sign Wilco direct to Anti- as opposed to having dBpm Records distributed?
Well, this gives us flexibility. It is a different kind of deal, which was important to us. We felt like that we were ready. During the Nonesuch period, we were starting to evolve what we were doing from (being) a traditional management company to more like a label.
You had been doing publicity, promotion and marketing in-house for quite some time.
We were gradually in-sourcing things. Instead of out-sourcing, we were doing the reverse. Like 10 years ago, we took over the merchandise of the band. We do all of the band’s merchandising. We have a partner, Kung Fu (Inc.) in (Raleigh) North Carolina that does the fulfillment of online orders and some back end stuff for us, but we basically do all of the road stuff; everything from commissioning designs to ordering stock, you name it. That’s just another example of (how our management role has expanded). We started taking on all of these different aspects (of the business) and Jeff and I had been having (a conversation) for years about why should we be getting a minority share (of a recording) when it feels like we are doing the majority of the work.
But without a major label, you never would have been in this position.
That may be true. I don’t know. I’d say that was an evolutionary thing. We had an opportunity to do something like this when we signed with Nonesuch (in 1992) and decided not to do it because we didn’t think we were ready, and we didn’t think that the market was ready.
It was then a different market environment. Downloading wasn’t as prevalent, and the disruption of the label system hadn’t fully happened yet.
Yeah, a bigger brick and mortar infrastructure existed then. The whole thing was different. But even a year ago when we decided to do what we are doing now, we didn’t go into it wanting to do everything ourselves. We knew that there are people who have more expertise in certain areas than we do that we could tap into. We wanted to forge relationships with them and Anti- brought several levels of that into our relationship which is really helpful.
We’re calling the shots in a way that we never have before, but we also go to them. They have intellectual and physical resources that we wouldn’t have otherwise without our day-to-day relationship with them. So far it’s early days. We really don’t know how all this is going to play out but, so far, we like to think of it as the best of both worlds. We’re doing a lot of work, and we have never been busier. But that’s always the case right, just before a record comes out. But, we like the dynamic (of the relationship). What results we can see so far are promising.
What have you learned over the years about dealing with labels?
Boy, that’s tough because I have learned a lot in terms of straight knowledge, and plenty of "what not to do" lessons.
So many people today argue that labels are evil.
I think that anytime that you generalize like that, that’s pretty questionable. I have had plenty of fights and run-ins—both large and small—with labels, and I have also had a lot of success, and I have a lot of friends and respect for people that work at labels. Not everyone, that’s for sure. But there are plenty of good, smart people that work at labels, both indie and major. I think that the game has changed a lot in the last five years. It’s a little harder to make any kind of generalization day-to-day.
There are some creative music people at labels; and some pure salespeople as well.
I will be forced to generalize here. I do think that the ratio has changed a bit, kind of gradually over the last 10 years where it does seem that with those passionate people, there are fewer of them. But they are still here. I think that as labels have down-sized, it is often the day-to-day people who are pushing the thing down the field that are the first to go, which is unfortunate.
A decade ago, a label would present a manager with a marketing plan for a new project. Many managers today have their own marketing and promotion personnel, so they draw up plans and ask labels, “Where do you fit in?”
I think that’s a fair summary of one of the things that has changed. It does come down to you as the manager or the record company—both in our case now—to be a lot more creative, and not sit around waiting for people to do things for you because in many cases you will be waiting forever. You have to make things happen on your own.
At what stage in Wilco’s career did you realize that?
I think that we gradually realized it because there were a lot of things that we wanted to do that were either flat-out ignored or very poorly executed.
You’re talking about Wilco on Reprise Records?
Yeah, it was probably somewhere in that era when it was. There was a point where we were getting a lot of pressure to do videos. Wilco made some videos for (Reprise), including a couple of reasonably expensive ones by our standards. Then, when we saw what they did with them or didn’t do with them, we started doing the math in our own heads and asked, “Why do we keep doing this if nothing ever happens?”
Most times the cost of a video is recoupable under label contracts.
That was why we basically stopped doing them. First, we downsized the videos that we were willing to do and then we stopped doing them. If you did a real low budget one, (the video channels) just weren’t interested in it. It didn’t make any sense (doing videos). That was one of the reasons why Wilco recouped all of their deals. They didn’t spend a fortune or anything—in some cases—on videos and didn’t take tour support with a few exceptions, such as in the cases of international tours. After a few records, we just figured out ways to tour a lot without taking any money from the label. And that worked out.
Reprise at the time, was a very good radio promotion machine, and Wilco weren't an act that that a machine like that could do a good job with. What radio did Reprise want to direct you to?
There was a point early on, around the time of AM (radio), we would hear things like, “We are looking at Tweedy to write some Tom Petty/Wallflowers type songs. “Okay, it’s not going to happen, but you can want whatever you want. It’s just not what he does.”
With its roster including Mavis Staples, Tom Waits, Joe Henry, and Tinariwen, Anti- doesn’t need to play the radio game.
I think that they are capable of doing great things at radio, but I also think that they understand—this is something we had a hard time with, in particular, at Reprise—was convincing anybody that you could have a successful record that didn’t include a hit on the radio. Nonesuch was more like Anti- more than they were like Reprise.
The irony is the Grateful Dead were on Reprise.
I know. It is the old pendulum thing. It went very far in the other direction. I’m sure now it probably is—it has to be—different there, but we’re not around to worry about it.
In 1999, Reprise sent Wilco back into the studio after hearing “Summerteeth,” saying, “We don’t hear any singles here.”
Yeah, which, despite completely disagreeing with them, Jeff and I talked it over and decided, “Okay, maybe we should give it a shot.” He wrote a song (“Can’t Stand It”) and recorded it with David Kahne (then executive VP of A&R for Warner Bros. Records.) and it came out. Everybody on our end was really happy with the tune.
When I agreed to go and talk to Jeff about this—I knew, of course, that nobody wants to hear that; and it was an unpleasant conversation that we had. I didn’t really agree with (the idea) but I was trying to handle long term with the short term. When I agreed to talk to Jeff about it, I said, “If I do this, you need to promise me that you are going to work the single to certain radio formats.” There were several things. They looked me in the eye, and agreed to do all of those things. Then we cut the track, played their game, put it on the record etc.—and, of course, they didn’t do anything that they promised to do.
You were asking earlier about things that I’ve learned. That (experience) was a real lesson to all of us and really directly impacted the whole thing that went down with "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" because the label had started to allude to having that conversation again when we delivered "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” I had already talked to Jeff about this because we knew there was a possibility that it would come up because it was coming up in every conversation about this record.
Reprise Record executives heard roughs of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot?”
Yeah, yeah and we just knew being what it was that the chances of them not having a problem with what we were doing were pretty slim. It was really chaos over there (at the label) then. Basically, we went in with a take it or leave it attitude. We said, “This is the record. It’s finished. Here you go. Considered it delivered.”
By the way, we have a film camera following us around for the film "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”
That was more of an accident more than anything. What ended up happening was the result of a whole lot of stuff. Some of it, a big portion of what happened, was the direct result of what went down with “Summerteeth.” We learned a pretty hard lesson on that one which is that promises are worth shit, and you should stick to your guns and make the record that you want to make; deliver it; and do your best to make it happen. Sitting around waiting for (a label) to do something is a fundamental error.
[Wilco anticipated a rather frosty label response to “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” from Reprise Records when it was delivered in the spring of 2001. By that time, the band had already sent some rough mixes, and played a few songs for label personnel in the studio.
After the album was delivered to Reprise, two weeks of silence followed. When a Reprise executive finally did call, he insisted that Wilco needed to make changes to the record. Film maker Sam Jones happened to be in Tony Margherita's office with cameras rolling for the band documentary, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”
Recalls Jones, “I went over to do an interview with Tony, and happened to be in his office when he got a call from the record company. Tony basically told the record company, 'Look, this is the last straw; you probably lost us now because you pissed Jeff off.' It was kind of fortuitous timing that we happened to be there and we turned on the camera."]
Didn’t "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" turn out to be Wilco’s most successful album?
Yes, it did and, at the time, it was by a long shot.
You bought the album back from Reprise.
We basically got it back for next to nothing.
You had to pay recording costs of $50,000.
Something like that. I don’t want to quote numbers. It wasn’t very much, let’s put it that way. It was quite a bargain from where we sat.
Out of that well-publicized label departure, Wilco developed an underdog status in the media.
Yeah but God knows, we really did not intend for that to be the story. In some ways, for a least a year or two, it was the story and probably, in some ways, got in the way with what the record was about. But the record withstood that kind of scrutiny long-term. Making a stand for that record was not something anybody in our camp ever regretted for one second—and not just because it sold well.
Recording is one of the few creative things you can do with a small group of people. Look at commercial film-making; it needs hundreds of people and significant financing.
That’s true. I have never tried to make a film, but I know how the numbers looks like. I have seen them made, and I know that is a huge undertaking. Wilco's records—and I know a lot of other people make records in a similar way—are kind of made in a bubble at this point. They have their own studio; they have engineers that they have worked with multiples times and they are very familiar with; and they have a crew that they have been working with for a decade plus; and a management team that they have been working with for 15 year plus.
You can definitely isolate yourself and let the creativity happen which, for the band, is a great thing. In the right hands, it is a wonderful opportunity. Jeff and the guys in Wilco are really smart about it, and handle it really well. They are not closed off to input from other people, but they know what they are doing, and they’ve got a track record to prove it. They don’t really need a lot of outside input—at least during the process.
You met Jeff while you were both working at Euclid Records in St. Louis. What made you think that you could manage his band, Uncle Tupelo?
I think it was ignorance, actually. I had no idea what managing a band even meant. It was something that I had never thought about—never considered as a career or even as a hobby.
You grew up in St. Louis?
Yes, I grew up in St. Louis. I had gone to Washington U. (Washington University in St. Louis), and I worked in the public relations office for the school. It was like my work study job, and I worked on the newspaper. When I got out of school, I got this job editing an alumni magazine for Grinnell College (in Grinnell, Iowa). I stayed there for two years. I thought that was what I was going to do. Just some kind of PR, writing stuff.
What was your major in university?
My major was economics. At some point, I thought about pre-law but once I finished the four years, there was no way. I got a B.A. in economics and urban studies. I thought I might get into some kind of public policy thing. I was interested in urban planning and other things. None of them had anything to do with music. I was always a big music fan. I had a friend who owned Euclid Records. I started working there part-time while I was freelancing as a writer in St. Louis. It’s a pretty big store with new and used records.
Jeff worked there too.
I worked there longer than he did. He came in, and I had been working there for some years and I was the night manager, and a buyer at the store. He was an employee, just working part-time. He bugged me to go to see his band (Uncle Tupelo). He was just this kid that worked in the store that I liked. That was it. Eventually, I acquiesced and went out to see the band, and I really liked it. Eventually, I saw them play an acoustic show in a little bar in St. Louis where they weren’t cranking the Marshall (amps), and where I could actually hear the songs. I walked out of the place and I said to the people I was with, “I have to figure out a way to help these guys because that was amazing.”
What do you miss about vinyl records?
Nothing because I listen to records all of the time. I don’t buy records as much as I used to. First of all I have less time, and there are fewer record stores. So I don’t do it as much as I used to. but I do still make it a point.
Were you a record collector?
Yeah. Not like a fanatical one. The beginning of this whole (music career) thing was that I was a big music fan, a record collector and spent a lot of time hanging out in record stores in my free time.
What was your best find in a record store?
I’m sure it was some obscure jazz record. That was basically what I was into. Not solely but I spent a lot of time flipping through dusty bins of old Bluenotes or whatever. I’d spend three hours just flipping through the bins, and come out with a stack of records. That was when you could do it, and it wouldn’t cost a fortune. I would find 20 records, and that would be nirvana.
With labels then often over shipping, there were always cut-outs.
It seems to be coming back around, but now you really have to pay for them. Reissues tend to be pricey, and they are doing a great job with them. When you can find stuff, the quality is great.
In 1992, Uncle Tupelo jumped from Rockville Records to a seven year deal with Sire.
We had a pretty unpleasant experience at Rockville on many levels. We were so relieved to get out. We felt like we had been rescued at the time because Uncle Tupelo…don’t get me wrong, they weren’t selling a boat load of records but we were selling enough. We also weren’t spending any money. We had some money coming that we never saw.
As Uncle Tupelo evolved into Wilco with Jeff, the stay at Sire was short.
Pretty quickly we got rolled into Reprise. But it was at a time when major labels were putting out records with a lot of bands that had recently moved over from indie labels or elsewhere. It seemed like a pretty exciting time. Of course, reality came crashing home not too far down the road after that.
Being a music fan yourself, you can understand all of the streaming on Wilco by fans.
We embraced it pretty early on. There was sort of a limbo period where Wilco had a finished recording, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" but had no label, and it didn’t look like it was going to see the light of day for any time soon, and we had a tour that we needed to do to stay afloat, feeding families and all of that stuff.
So we needed to figure out a way to go out, and do (perform) all of this new material that the band had already had for a year, and the band hadn’t been on the road for awhile. So the strategy was, “Let’s just have people hear the record. That’s not going to hurt. That’s going to be a good thing.” So we got with the guy who did our website, and said that we had to figure out a way to put (the album) up and steam it, and let people hear it a couple of weeks before this tour happens—so there’s some familiarity with all of this new material. That’s what we did. We got out on the road, and I remember looking out at the audience at the first show on the tour, and people knew all of the words (to the songs on "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot") already.
[As word of Wilco's turmoil with Reprise Records had spread, interest in its upcoming album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" intensified. Prior to its split with Reprise, the band had scheduled a tour to begin in Sept. 2001, assuming the new album would be in stores by then. Though it was months from signing its Nonesuch contract, Wilco went ahead with the tour, posting the album on its web site for free streaming beforehand. Without an album in stores, the mostly sold-out tour played to thousands of fans who knew “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" by heart. The album also surfaced on some critics' best-of lists for 2001.]
By that point, your fans might stream the record but they also wanted ownership.
We actually said to them at some point, “Look we are happy to let you guys listen to this album as much as you want. We are happy to let you tape shows” which Wilco has always done—“record them, trade them whatever—but once in awhile we have to come to you, and ask you to buy something. In order for this thing to continue happening the way you and we hope it will, you have to go to the record store now and buy this record. Then you can go back to whatever, downloading free live shows or whatever you want to do and we aren’t going to give you any grief about it.” We actually sent out an email something very close to what I just said. “The band needs you to step up and prove everybody wrong here and go out and buy the record.” Everybody (in the music business) said that if we streamed the record, it was going to be a disaster.
I’m not sure if ownership is a factor today for fans.
I think it depends on who your audience is. Even from that (early) decision to now, it’s a different ballgame. We still do (streaming). We still believe that music is the best weapon we have to work with, but you have to be careful. Not everybody is going to step up the way you want them to. We know that. Wilco fans are a pretty smart bunch generally, and you can talk to them. We can have a conversation and we can ask them to do certain things. They do step up and do what we need them to do most of the time, and I suspect that will happen again with this record.
["The Whole Love" is being officially released Sept. 27, but the band put the entire album up for streaming on Sept. 3rd for one day only.]
What is Wilco’s fan base?
Probably about 400,000 to 500,000 (people) worldwide. I figure that there is probably well over a million people that own a Wilco record. That’s just a guess. It’s somewhere between one and two million. Maybe, there is 300,000 plus that own all or most of them. We have based this decision (for a label) on those kinds of numbers. That it was economically viable for us to do it. If we just maintain where we have been, we will come close (to being profitable), and I suspect we will do better than that.
Radiohead’s model of “pay what you can” isn’t enticing to you as a business model?
We have talked about it at certain periods of time. We have done similar things. We did an EP where you could download it for free but we asked people to give a charitable donation. A couple of years ago (in 2009), Wilco recorded the Woody Guthrie song “The Jolly Banker” during the mortgage crisis. Nora Guthrie called us and said, "someone has to record this song soon because it is so right on time. Will you guys do it?” I called Jeff and told him, what Nora had said; and got him the lyrics; and they cut the tune. We just decided to (release) it as a download and tell everyone to make a donation to the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives which is a place that always needs money.
When "A Ghost is Born" leaked in 2004, one fan site began soliciting donations from listeners who just could not wait until street date without downloading it. The result was a $15,000 check for Doctors Without Borders.
We suggested the charity, and worked together with them. It was one of those things that you realize at one point that we can’t keep sticking our fingers in these holes in the dam. We have to deal with the water. That was kind of the result to that.
Should Nick Lowe be checking his bank statement with his song “I Love My Label” being the B-side of Wilco’s “I Might” single?
I guess we’ll see. I hope that it does well for him. He did it tongue-in-cheek in a different way—a different sort of message behind it than the one that we have done. But it’s the same song. I love Nick’s music.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”