'Downloading has cheapened music'

  • 23 July 2009
  • From the section Music
Jack White
Jack White said he really enjoys buying vinyl from record stores

Jack White, The White Stripes linchpin and all round busiest man in rock 'n' roll, has launched a special subscription service. He's doing it because he's unhappy with the way downloading is affecting music experiences. He explains how he came up with the idea for the Vault.

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What are your thoughts on the dominance of the internet on the music industry generally these days?

It’s taken a lot of the romance out of the experiences of music.

This is what we're trying to manipulate to the advantage of the fan/listener and the artist as well, to find ways to have beautiful experiences that have a longer lasting impact.

Sometimes things you have complete easy access to, like a reality show, or an online purchase at the click of a mouse, can become forgetable and invisible.

A trip to a record store to get the album you've been waiting months for on the other hand, can be cherished for a lifetime.

We are trying to find those bridges between the tangible worlds and the cyber/digital worlds.

As an artist who has embraced vinyl, what do you think about download culture?

The Dead Weather
Jack White with his new supergroup The Dead Weather

A quick look at sales figures for albums will show anyone with a brain that there's no doubt the world has collectively decided that there is nothing wrong with taking music for free and feeling no moral conundrum about it.

Oh well, that's the individuals personal battle to think about really. People say, "Bad for the artist, great for the fan," but that's not necessarily true I don't think.

Download culture isn't a very romantic experience for the fan regarding art, it cheapens it and makes it fast forwardable, and disposable, and a lot of times ignorable.

That's a shame for a lot of art and music that isn't getting the chance that it would if people just left the needle on the record till the end of the side or what have you.

I'm not telling people not to listen to MP3s, we sell them for all of our records and I wouldn't say to them don't share with their friends or whatever, but if you're asking me my opinion on what I prefer, or what I think is the best way to enjoy music, I would take a tangible, moving piece of machinery to listen to, as it expands the imagination. The physical attachment and the experience is more reverential to the art form.

How did you come up with the initial idea for the Vault?

We had been working for years on trying to find a more interesting solution to the modern fan's desire to enjoy and participate in music.

Many of the cutting edge conventional modes didn't seem that interesting to me.

So it took us a minute to get the structure of something we thought was involving to both the fans and the artists.

We have no expectations of how many people will want to get involved and subscribe, it's all new and experimental especially combining the vinyl records and digital content together.

What kind of additional content will fans get for their money and how is it produced?

The Raconteurs
The Raconteurs peforming at T In The Park in 2008

They will get tapes filmed by the groups themselves. That sometimes is an expense, sometimes very cheap for the artists to make.

They will also get vaulted footage from the past that no one has seen or ever posted on YouTube before.

The White Stripes alone have incredible amounts of footage and recordings of shows from the last decade.

At times bands like [side project] The Dead Weather will spontaneously perform online and fans will be notified by Twitter to make an exciting and off the cuff experience.

We are trying to not make things always available at the click of a mouse, but for experiences to be brought to their attention in strange ways.

How involved personally will you be with this project?

Very involved. I'm not a big fan of a lot of these toys actually, but I never like to tell people who want to share the music I create how they can get it.

It doesn't matter to me if they want an MP3 or an 8 track tape.

It's the artists duty to work with the listener as much as possible, we are in the art form together.

Do you think it is fair to your audience who may not have as much disposable cash to charge for the possibility of presale tickets to concerts?

The White Stripes
Jack and Meg White in his original band The White Stripes

We'd rather have a pool of die hard fans getting those instead of scalpers for one thing, but fairness is up to the consumer.

We can only offer what we think they might want, and if they don't, we'll soon be made aware and move on to the next thing.

It's all for them, the Vault is charging for a plethora of ideas and experiences.

Some members are getting into shows before anyone else now just by lottery, some might get rare records randomly sent to them via mail order (or handed to them by me even!)

Some are getting records that they will resell on eBay if they want to.

It's their record and their community too so some will cherish all of these experience and records and some will think it's not worth it.

Outside this project, what your plans for the next 12 months?

I'm a part of a lot of records being made this year, many are singles released on vinyl and MP3s on iTunes. Also some things I can't tell you about.

But right now I'm heavy into The Dead Weather and producing records when I'm not touring with them.

The Dead Weather's debut album Horehound is out now