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T Bone Burnett: New Artists Should “Stay Completely Away From The Internet.”

image from files.isound.com T Bone Burnett had some choice words to give up-and-coming artists at the FMC Policy Summit last week: “Stay completely away from the internet.” It’s a rather provocative statement. The reason he gives is that once an artist joins the legions of bands on MySpace they’ve already lost. That by uploading their music to the web an artist instantly devalues their work and throws it on top of the growing and excessive pile of music. At his best, he also makes big assertions about the greatest challenge of our time: the affluence of machines and our overreliance on them.

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52 Comments

  1. Deep respect for the guy but what a stupid thing to say. You need to be online but when you are the next step most artists never take or are never good at is connecting with your fan base. If you have good music and are able to connect well with your fan base you can break thru that clutter.

  2. Sorry but that is really bad advice for artists – at least those who want their music to be heard by other people.

  3. Bad Advice Music Industry has changed like : analog to digital, Industy is evolving very rapidly those bands that embrace the new tech are the band that will succeed ; the others will not.

  4. I like provocative ideas.
    sometimes, doing just the opposite of what everybody else does, is a good idea.
    it could work for someone, but not for all, like any other strategy.
    since we are not living in a top-down market anymore, being original is the key and I suspect that each time that a strategy gains in popularity, it’s too late to adopt it.

  5. A commenter bjza on digitalmusicnews.com on this subject says it best: Some of the first jazz band leaders refused to let their orchestra be recorded because they didn’t want their competitors to steal their arrangements. Today they’re footnotes.

  6. what a load of bollocks. i mean really. this is old school of thought. bad advice indeed, so bad in fact im sure he just wanted to create a reaction – oh? now i really feel duped, doh!

  7. I don’t really think that keeping your music off the internet is enough to hold it’s value. I mean, if you are worth listening to at all then a fan will put it up there somewhere. Better to not record your music at all. Oh wait, someone might bootleg a live performance and post that… hmm… I know! Just keep it in your head. Never record it. Never even play it. That will solve everything!

  8. The problem here is that this guy is too old to “get it.” Probably computer illiterate as well, kudos to him for his accomplishments, but still. Old dog new tricks, not.

  9. Big fan of T Bone’s, but is misguided advice–isn’t this sort of like saying “Don’t do any TV” in 1947? Or “You don’t need to do a video” in 1982?

  10. He opened his interview with a misguided rant about how digital music turns into “squares” and not waves (at which point I turned off the webcast). Burnett is a fantastic producer but he is astoundingly clueless about technology, which is surprising given that he is likely surrounded by it daily in the studio.

  11. much respect to T-Bone, but this is bad advice. what he doesn’t seem to appreciate fully is that people will upload an artist’s music (and everything else) FOR them. if an artist wants any say whatsoever over how their music and image are presented online, they have to stake a claim and not cede that control to third parties.

  12. man some people really just don’t have any shame in showing their age.
    I guess carbon paper is also going to make a comeback now. Who uses computers anyway? Should we stop using Fire too?

  13. If the music is not good it’s going to devalue itself in any medium. Disappointed in T-Bones talk. He needs to go online to get some knowledge about the New World. Wake Up T-Bone.

  14. Dear Kevin
    Deep respect to you.  I am on a plane for five hours and thought I’d take a few minutes to respond to a few of the posts on this web log beginning with yours.  I said that if I were starting off today, knowing what I know now, I would stay completely off the internet.  That, if course, is not possible.  So what do you think I was saying?
    Would you consider the possibility that I wasn’t saying something stupid?  If you are a musician, I am on your side.  I am fighting for a fairer, more ethical future for musicians.  I have been doing this for a long time, and I have to say, in all honesty, that as larcenous as the record companies have been, the internet makes them look like Robin Hoods.  I am fully aware of the possibilities of putting together and managing a database on the Internet.  The Internet is a powerful tool for sharing information- great for research.  It is, however, an indisputable fact that digital technology does not capture music as fully as analogue technology.  If one can’t hear the difference between a tape recording and an mp3, he should not quit his day job.  It is also inarguable that every copy on the internet is by the nature of the technology- free.
    Digital is not the end of technology.  In my view, for music, it is a detour.  There are better sounding, more stable, more robust technologies to store music available now, and there are many possibilities for the future.
    I have spent a great deal of time for the last twenty or so years thinking about and dealing with this issue.  The strategy I outlined at the Future of Music conference was meant for anyone who understood what I was getting at.  For those who couldn’t hear it, it was no advice at all.  I am not standing in anyone’s way.
    If I were just starting out today, knowing what I know now, I would have nothing to do with the internet.  (I would probably have nothing to do with selling recordings- at least in the framework we are currently laboring under.)  I would not advertise myself.  (The internet, at the moment, most closely resembles an advertising platform.  The goal of most internet companies is to narrow our focus.  Does that sound like an advance to you?)  I would not market myself.  I would spend every minute of the day I could playing and listening to music.  Learning.  Getting better.
    Tone is to music as color is to painting.  Why would a musician record say, a five thousand dollar instrument on a penny medium- that destroys tone?
    Musicians deserve better.  The audience deserves better.  If you are a musician, YOUR audience deserves better.
    Technology changes every few years.  (Do you have anything to play your floppy discs on?  Do you think there will be mp3 players in twenty years?  In five years?  I don’t).  It is crucial to me as a musician that my work be of the highest possible quality.  It is crucial to me as a recording artist that my music be recorded and stored (and distributed, if I choose to distribute it) on the strongest possible medium.  How other people copy and distribute it (if you allow that) is another matter entirely.
    The future of music is analogue.  Guitars are analogue.  Pianos are analogue.  Drums are analogue.  Music is analogue. We are analogue.
    Here is something that might be of interest to you:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-carnes/net-neutrality-update-are_b_759489.html
    All the best
    T Bone Burnett

  15. We are way past that, Nick. I am talking about a jazz band that uses a kazoo compared to a jazz band that uses a cornet. I am talking about making a recording of the highest quality- a future proof recording.

  16. @B Skrilla My guess is it’s the fragility of the medium that leads people to be so defensive around the notion of a technology. Time will tell who the dopes are. Probably already has.

  17. Howard
    How old are you? You have not understood me, and you have misjudged me. You have not gotten it. (I have been computer literate, as you say, for a couple of decades.) I am on your side. I think. I’m asking you to learn some new tricks.
    T Bone Burnett

  18. Ovey
    That wasn’t a rant. The whole interview was extremely light hearted. As you say, I have had access to the most cutting edge technology for decades. Still do. I am not clueless about it at all. You might consider that I am hyper clued in.
    All the best
    T Bone Burnett

  19. @tippysdemise I fully appreciate that. I have noticed that for many years. Much respect to you.

  20. Dear Cathy
    What shame is there in being any age? (It is probably not a good idea to be glib at any age. That could be seen as shameful.)
    Best
    T Bone Burnett

  21. Jun Mhoon
    The New World, huh? I hope you’re right. I hope this internet or another one works out. A lot of people are putting a lot of blind faith in it. For all the good that can come of connectivity in terms of community and shared information and research, there is as great or greater a potential for evil as we must see clearly by even the most cursory examination of the subject. So far- and as I have written above, I have been involved in this for a long time- I would say that the internet has failed to deliver on its promise. I have high hopes that that will change. I’m just not counting on it. At any rate, I am not talking about going backward, I am talking about going forward. I want to assure and reassure you that I am fully alive to all of this.
    Onward.
    T Bone Burnett

  22. Dear EarOnDalton
    Thank you for your open mind. I want to go forward not backward. I am fighting to make the world sound better. The quality of the sound of recorded music has fallen off close to a hundred percent in the last twenty years, and we all suffer from that reality.
    Though I would wish it to be so, I do not believe that the internet is ushering in a world of peace and harmony and community. At the moment it looks most like an advertising platform.
    The internet, is at this moment, an amateur medium. I trust that some day, this internet, or another one, will turn into something strong and filled with beauty and truth. As things stand, though there are the occasional bright spots (such as this from Arcade Fire http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/ ), it is fragile and filled with nonformation. We can see this by the defensiveness (and offensiveness) of many of its proponents. At any rate, by any standards, it is a medium of extremely low quality, as exemplified by the unlistenable mp3 format.
    I hope the best for the future, but I do not have the kind of fervid belief in technology that causes the citizens of iTopia to behave in as close minded, threatened, and hostile a way as fundamentalists in any other religion.
    No battle that can be won is worth fighting.
    Kindest regards
    T Bone Burnett
    (We have had that myspace page for a few years. We have been trying to cancel the account for weeks. They have not shut it off. I suspect that’s because they are selling ads on the site.)

  23. Alright, T-Bone, I’m all ears. Please, let me in on YOUR brilliant new strategy for self-promotion! Please, the idea that one must sacrifice quality for modern technology is an obsolete concept. Music does not imitate economic theory, grow up.

  24. Dear Waltonreuben
    Right off the bat, if you want to promote yourself, I would stop writing hostile letters to people. At this point, if you want any more help, you’ll have to speak with my manager. (That is a slight attempt at humor.)
    I’ll say this one last thing. If you are a hack, all the self promotion in the world will only let more people know what a self promoting hack you are.
    If you are a good musician, work until you are great- as great as Chris Thile, as great as the Punch Brothers. You won’t have much of a problem getting people to notice you then.
    I am back on the ground now and back to work, so I must take my leave. I have enjoyed your journal and look forward to stumbling back by some day.
    I wish all of you a long life in music.
    All the best
    T Bone Burnett

  25. T Bone,
    tone bloke thinks you are awesome but asks this…
    “There are better sounding, more stable, more robust technologies to store music available now, and there are many possibilities for the future.”
    What are some of these technologies, and are they transferable digitally and in the cloud?

  26. I think that perhaps folk should back up a bit. T Bone is practically stating the obvious here, whether you realize it or not. The live music economy is more predictable, stable, profitable, and less competitive than the internet scene. The process for attracting fans to a venue, the music, the publicity and promotion on radio and TV are well understood. All the traffic numbers really point to the live scene driving the significant internet activity. Everyone else is fighting over scraps, going for licensing opportunities or selling lessons. Yes, people can make a start online and socialize in new ways, but for all the activity, we should be seeing an explosion of commerce online and it’s not happening.
    The reason it’s not happening is that there is an *exponential* explosion of data online all stitched together by a loose network, all vying for attention. The winners are the super nodes in the network – google, apple, facebook, yahoo, cdbaby, digg, reddit, etc. not any particular content node, like your band page, wherever it might be. The money is not in the content itself whose value is slowly approaching zero while it’s availability goes to infinity, but in selling visibility on the supernodes – Ads and search results.
    For content creators, it’s a crisis. You can win if you have high visibility on a supernode. You can win if you ARE a supernode, so long as you keep your costs in control. You can win if you organize in groups and saturate the economy of a given node. You can win if you are a market leader or first mover. You can win if you can link the real world with the internet world. You can win if you can bridge multiple media spaces.
    The mp3 is not the future. Look beyond the mp3.

  27. T Bone,
    As a man of your generation, I agree in-part to what your saying. Sound quality in general on the mp3 does not compare to a GOOD quality analogue recording. But, things are changing. HP’s new Beat Audio (TM) is designed to (and I quote) experience the way the artist intended to be heard. I’m not selling computers here but it’s the reason why I bought the new HP pavilion dv7 and the difference is very noticeable!
    As you know “New Artist” have such a slim chance in actually “making it” in the industry today and one of the few ways that they came afford to promote themselves today as an indie, is by way of the internet. This is a great way to get exposure and to generate followers that us managers, bookers and promoters look for. On the other hand, putting all of their music up on the internet will quickly prove their net worth to be little to non existing from record sales.
    I encourage promotion with samples and promote sales though sources such as amazon if your sole reliance is the internet.
    Respectfully Yours,
    Ken Jones – CEO
    DNK Entertainment

  28. T Bone: I don’t think it is the fragility of the medium that leads this guy / people to be so defensive. I think it is a fear that they may not have real talent or goods in the “artist” department.

    Technology of course has provided many cool advances, however it also allows middling or totally talentless people to create and distribute crap. It has been made so easy for people to not really know the medium they are working in. So they just get defensive and spew instead.

    B H / http://www.herzco.com

  29. A lot of bad manners on display here… People just because you don’t presently agree with T-Bone does not give you license to insult him.
    T-Bone is an artist that many of us respect profoundly. (And he’s unfailingly polite, even when getting troll-like potshots.) So let’s consider that maybe he knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about, for starters, shall we?
    I’d like to propose a middle way — in a sense, agreeing with both sides of this issue. My bottom line is: TRUST your music, and TRUST the Universe.
    First the music. Be as good, as completely, mindblowingly authentic to YOU that you can be. Remember you’re doing this because you have no other choice (if you do have a choice, then feel free to move on from this comment because we’re not talking about the same thing).
    Then (and only then) use every means at your disposal to spread that good vibe. MUSIC IS A GIFT that a few of us are privileged to receive. A gift should in turn be shared (it’s the humble, right thing to do). Give it away. Sell it. Share it. Perform it. In every way and via every means that you can think of. The Universe will take care of connecting you and your music with those who are looking for it.
    Analogue, digital, whatever… nobody can control how others are going to listen to your music, and alas, it will never sound as great as it did in the mastering studio.
    So be it. Keep getting better. That’s my advice!
    Thanks T-Bone, for everything you’ve done to bring your gift, and those of many other artists, into the world.

  30. If age is all you have as a referent when posing a critique, well, who told you that was adequate? At first glance, someone your age. And if you think that putting concepts or words in someone else’s mouth is a way of critiquing an argument, grow the hell up. It’s a hallmark of an undeveloped mind this use of supposedly logical next steps when it’s only the sort of logic that undeveloped minds employ.

  31. The internet is like a lottery ticket, people think they don’t have to slug it out as hard, they just might be that 1 in 10 million. Musicians and bands are people, and most people are short sighted and looking for an easy way out. Why can’t iPod’s play higher quality FLAC files? It’s because the branding is in MP3 this, MP3 that. We recorded on ProTools using digital plugins, and posted an MP3 file. But the music never sounded better than in the mastering studio listening to it off the 1/2 tape heads.
    Floyd & Zeppelin didn’t need the internet, they were good enough to create a real buzz. There’s so much crap music on MySpace how can anyone stand out? I got sick of listening to my iPod because the older albums I grew up with on CD sound shit to average on the iPod. Certainly with the constantly dropping cost of storage and increasing network bandwidth higher quality digital music files are coming. It will be the only way iTunes VS Amazon will be able to one up each other, by starting to offer higher quality product.
    In the meantime I’m gonna buy a lottery ticket and foolishly hope T-Bone and Jimmy Page wanna record an album with me… as I wonder when China will implode and take over Africa (even more so).

  32. Your comparison is apples and oranges.
    At one time technology delivered asbestos laced tampons, oven mitts and insulation. Seemingly benign, beneficial, cutting edge technology for many years. However asbetos was a danger and detriment to the general health of the unaware masses and labor force. A costly (money,time, innovation & lives)distraction from going a better way.

  33. MP3’s are sort of a music equivalant of Asbestos.
    Respect and Kindness to you, Mr. T Bone Burnett.
    This is an extremely important conversation to have, and problem to solve. Please keep advocating to “making the world sound better”!!! I love it!!

  34. Wow, I’m flattered to receive a direct response. I’ll agree ‘rant’ wasn’t the most accurate description. My accusation of cluelessness comes from the mathematical fact that digital representations of waveforms can in fact be rendered back to perfectly smooth and analog-like signals, as per the Nyquist sampling theorum. There are, of course, problems with implementing such a perfect converter, but the idea that the music turns into squares is misrepresenting the truth.
    I’ll agree that, as audio professionals, we have a responsibility to uphold the highest standards of quality, and to promote those standards to the less critical public, but good digital audio (not lossy compression and the like) can be empirically shown to be a valid and useful tool in that fight.

  35. Music has been degraded and devalued in the last decade mainly by technology, but at the same time, it has become more accessible. Anyone can record noise and post it somewhere and call themselves an “artist”. This has screwed lots of things up because it allows “non-musicians” to be in the same room with real musicians. That’s just how it goes. The truth is, not everyone has 10-20 thousand dollars to make great recordings and distribute everything themselves. Most people are just trying to squeak out whatever attention they can get with a limited buget. Time will eventually weed out the garbege. The “shitty” bad “musicians” will have have long moved onto something else, some othe “lottery” and any true artist will survive this decade of shit. The money will come and the music will exist if there is any poetic justice in this wicked world.

  36. As a studio engineer I love digital recording technology when used in a progressive manner. Please give me 55 year old tube mics and a properly aligned 2″ 16 track recorder to record my backing tracks –THEN transfer that to digital for a more permanent storage platform for the hundreds and hundreds of passes of overdubs. No loss of fidelity as the tape heads grind the tape in the process. mix it all down to 1/2″ 2-track and edit it with a razor blade. Then master it digitally from the analog. Best of both worlds.

  37. I’m encouraged by T Bone’s direct responses, and I’ll defend him again here. Our aural perception is not tied to Nyquist theorem. Tests have shown that we do respond to frequencies much higher than 20kHz or even 40kHz.
    To argue that this compromise is worth it, that mp3s are suitable samples is one thing. However, we shouldn’t be convincing ourselves that we nothing is lost when we listen to an mp3, wav or aiff compared to analogue – there is a clear mathematical and discernible compromise.
    The fact is we don’t hear digitally. The 1’s & 0’s make squares that can paint a somewhat accurate picture, but as T Bone said, “We live in an analogue world.”

  38. Hi EarOnDalton,
    I’m afraid you too are misunderstanding Nyquist. Frequencies under half the digital sampling rate are reproduced perfectly. It is just factually innacurate to state that “The 1’s & 0’s make squares…”
    Also, conversion to mp3 is by definition lossy, and should not even be considered in a technical discussion of hi fidelity audio, unlike wav or aif formats which are lossless and relevant to this discussion.
    Lastly, all of the research I’m familiar with involving super high frequency perception shows that we have none. Here is a good article in Mix about the topic- http://mixonline.com/mag/audio_world_above/
    Most of these myths are due to aliasing or distortion that manifests itself in the audible band. Here is a fantastic paper written by Dan Lavry, one of the world’s best digital converter makers, about this very subject: http://www.lavryengineering.com/documents/Sampling_Theory.pdf
    He shows that even an 88.2KHz sampling rate is sufficient to eliminate aliasing artifacts in the audible band.
    You and T Bone are correct that we live in an analog world. Please understand that we have the technology to interact with that world.

  39. Mitch
    We record everything using Class A electronics throughout the chain. On the Raising Sand record we used a Studer 24 track.
    The most important part of the recording process is the transducers- the monitors. My advice is spend your money on monitors. That is the only way to know what you are hearing.
    (We use ProTools for editing. In the last five years or so, the converters have grown robust enough to allow us to transfer to high resolution digital to access all of the wonderful gadgets in that box.)
    We employ the best sounding, highest quality, most advanced technology every step of the process- beginning with the instruments.
    All the best
    T Bone Burnett

  40. Ovey
    You have not understood. Technology is advancing at an accelerated pace. Digital technology is not the end of the story. Why are you flattered to get a response from someone whom you dismiss in so cavalier a manner? One listens with his intelligence.
    Best of luck to you.

  41. T-Bone , long time no rap pal . yeah , all i can say to your whole speech is ”right on ”!
    what people dont understand is that we live in a ”technoautistic society ”. Music needs to be re-humanized . that is why i still gig and record without any interference from anyone .
    your references to the work of de Chardin hits the nail on the head. the Omega point will come when the analogue in us and the divine reach ”Christogenesis ” . and we got to get out of this digital domain to have it done .

  42. by the way , its rocket kirchner who just replied to you . i forgot to put my last name in the reply .

  43. i think you guys are missing the point.
    take yourselves out of the indie artist mindset. imagine if all an artist had to worry about was writing great songs and honing their craft. talent rises to the top.
    theoretically, if an artist was so talented and recordings so great, they would not, as TBone suggests, need a myspace page, or an online presence for that matter. word would spread on its own virally, word of mouth, in bars and clubs and even on facebook/twitter where the band did not have a presence to link back to.
    now, i may not agree with his point about not having an online presence for an artist starting out today, but i can see his rationale for saying that. if “artists” would stop worrying about getting exposure and just practice the exposure they are seeking would find them.
    it really comes down to this: are you in it for the music or the business? if business, then MANAGE an artist. or BOOK an artist, just please stop releasing sub-par BS “music” on your websites.
    Thanks!!

  44. ps.. for all those homebrew recording set ups. try mixing with the LCD monitors turned off. mixing is an aural talent not a visual one.

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