Beating a Dead Horse of a Different Color to the Beat of a Different Drummer

This little item is to soothe the guilty conscience of the reluctant file-sharer.

As you might know from reading this page, there’s a new Steely Dan album coming out next month. June 10. I’ll be at MediaPlay before they unlock their doors that day. And I won’t play it in the car, either. Oh, no. For the serious fan, that just won’t do.


Instead, I’ll drive cautiously home, going under the speed limit for the first time since my last driver’s test.

Close the garage door behind me, and enter the kitchen. There’s a good utility knife in the knife block, perfect for cutting the cellophane without risking damaging the CD jewel case. (There’s a rant to be written about CD and DVD packaging. Oh, and that hard plastic casing protecting most small high-tech items that you can’t get open without shredding the instructions and warranty card. What makes manufacturers think we’ll like their product better if they leave us unable to actually get to the stuff we bought? [Rant half written already]).

Anyway. Once the plastic wrap and sticky labels and claymore mines are all safely removed, I’ll take my treasure to the family room downstairs. That’s where the good stereo is. 6.1 channel sound. 100 watts per channel. Speakers large and dark and phallic enough to make Shaft nod knowingly, and say something about “not bad for a white boy.” Or maybe that was just in some strange dream of mine.

The CD will be lovingly placed in the DVD player, which moonlights as a CD machine. The cables are all from Monster. The equipment will all be cleaned and dusted the night before. The amp will be turned up to 11.

I’ll listen twice. Once, eyes closed, sitting in the sweet spot in the center of the sofa, almost exactly twice as far from the speakers as the speakers are from each other (serious audiophiles will understand). The second time, eyes open, reading along with the lyrics as the record plays.


But not three times. Three times in one sitting is like drinking the good scotch after you’re already six cocktails into the evening — you just aren’t able to appreciate it any longer. New Steely Dan albums don’t happen very often – nine times in 30 years, and I’ll leave the math up to you. So you’ve got to ration yourself, or you’ll dull your taste buds long before there’s another new one.

Two listens. Then it’s time to rip it to the hard drive. Download the cover art, cut’n’paste the lyrics into the song tags. Yes, I’ll even make notes about which musicians played on each song. I’ll burn a copy for the car, because there’s no way I’ll risk the original getting scratched.

So what the hell does all this fanboy obsession have to do with file sharing?

Last week, The Dan made one cut, Blues Beach, available for downloading for the low, low price of a buck forty-nine. Pay whenever, and you’ll get an email May 6 on how to download the song.

You better believe I paid up. And, yeah, I just downloaded it. Now I’m left wondering whether to listen now and ruin part of my one-two punch first listen experience, or say “screw it” and listen to the first new Steely Dan tune in three years. I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll probably give in before the night is over.

And what does that have to do with file sharing?

Reprise Records made it worth my while to pony up a dollar fifty over and above the price of the album, just to get a sneak peek at how it will sound. The cost to them is almost nothing, and the cost to me isn’t much higher. As a real fan, I’m not getting what I’ll get from owning the album (liner notes, art, pride of ownership, 320kpbs encoding, etc.), but I’m going to buy the album anyway.


This surely isn’t a good marketing ploy for most bands. But for artists who already have a large fan base, it’s brilliant. Yeah, a bunch of people will make the single available on Gnutella or WinMX or wherever, but the record company will get additional pre-release publicity — and they’ll get it by charging fans like me a buck or so for the privilege.

Surely, this is a much better ploy than Madonna’s latest silliness, when she recorded herself berating file-sharers, and put her curses out in the open, disguised as a song, like a virus to be downloaded by the unwary.

File sharing is here to stay. Reprise and Steely Dan chose to profit by it. Madonna chose to annoy her most diehard fans.

Which do you prefer?


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