The Grateful Dead and Piracy

GratefulDeadAt least up to the time of Jerry Garcia’s death The Grateful Dead were the most financially successfully band in history. It is important in examining how this group operated when examining the larger subject of music and other forms of piracy. The Dead very aggressively encouraged the piracy of their product and it cannot be repeated enough: They were the most financially successful band ever. Keep that in mind as you continue reading.

I have seen The Grateful Dead perform live on three separate occasions. The second time I suspect Jerry Garcia and perhaps others in the band were too stoned to perform actual songs and the entire show featured Garcia making spacey sounds with his guitar while the rest of the band did generic background stuff that seemed to go along with it. One friend with me claimed that they are legend at doing this and it was a rare and special performance. I was not impressed.

The other two shows were very well done with people dancing throughout the show in all the open spaces everywhere. It was a grand party atmosphere and the music was much better than their studio recordings. You had to be there.

What of piracy?

When walking to the arena there are people selling T-shirts as you approach. They are not the official t-shirts of The Grateful Dead but pirated knockoffs. If you wanted the real official t-shirts you had to buy them inside the arena. When the band came out the first time I saw them, Garcia and one other bandmate were wearing pirated shirts as sold outside, not the official ones sold inside. There is a community that follows the Dead from show to show and the band supports them in spite of the fact that they make no money from the pirated sales.

The Grateful Dead openly supported piracy of their very brand, not just their music. Not only is this part of their mystique, but it spread support and awareness of themselves as nothing else could. They are about the music and the party, not about the money. Repeat after me, ‘They were the most financially successful band in history.’

Recording of their concerts was not only allowed but encouraged. The first ten rows was full of poles with microphones mounted on top with people recording the entire show. Such tapes are freely traded among fans surely to this very day. What’s more, people were allowed to plug directly into the main soundboard on a first-come-first-served basis so the best recording possible might be captured. Our mantra please, ‘They were the most financially successful band in history.’

With many fans having hundreds of taped shows in their libraries, with their studio albums widely available to copy, their albums still all sold extremely well. People would travel cross country to see their shows. Piracy of their studio recordings, of their live shows, and of their merchandise were all rampant and yet, chorus please, ‘They were the most financially successful band in history.’

Somebody doesn’t have their story straight. Either piracy hurts a company or it doesn’t. Being the most successful and going in the exact opposite of common-sense assumptions should strike some financial corporate wizard smack in the face with a revelation. Piracy causes sales of the real product like nothing else can. Perhaps the most shining example of this is The Grateful Dead.

When people have money to spend they get what they want most whether they can pirate it or not. They get the official recordings from the store along with the pirated versions. There is no other conclusion possible when looking at the facts at hand.

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