July 18, 2000
        Kevin Crossett
      Roger McGuinn is happy to have brought his music full circle. In the late 
      '50s and early '60s, Roger McGuinn toured and recorded with some of the 
      most well-known folk artists and folk groups, before forming the legendary 
      Byrds. McGuinn and the Byrds played folk songs with rock instrumentation, 
      and started a new sound that prevails in much of today's music. These 
      days, Roger McGuinn is again playing and preserving the folk music with 
      which he started, and distributes his new recordings of old folk songs in 
      the MP3 format. 
      Roger recently made a statement at the Senate Hearings regarding Music on 
      the Internet, and I spoke with Roger shortly after, discussing how he 
      produces and sells his MP3 recordings. 
      Q: Roger, you were invited to the July 11th Senate Hearing, regarding 
      music on the Internet, and you made a statement about your experiences 
      with music downloads. How did you get involved in the Senate Hearing?
      ROGER: I was invited to appear by Senator Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), so I 
      guess he knew that I was into this sort of thing
      Q: It's interesting that, as with so many different things today, this 
      whole controversy is not so much an issue of the technology, but of how it 
      is used. I read many of the statements made at the Senate Hearing, and it 
      seems that most people are coming from different directions. Did you get 
      that feeling while you were there?
      ROGER: Yes, everybody had an agenda. Lars (Lars Ulrich, Metallica) was 
      pretty much clueless about the digital part of it, but he knew somebody 
      was stealing his stuff, and he didn't like it. The Napster guy had his 
      agenda, you know, where he wants to preserve Napster, the Sony Music guy 
      was putting up a smoke-screen about, "Oh yes, we're going digital and 
      doing it right." Michael Robertson from was defending my MP3 
      position. There were a couple other guys with e-music businesses, and then 
      there was the Gnutella guy who was coming from the "pirate" point of view, 
      you know, the software hackers' point of view. It was kind of fun.
      Q: Was the hearing just one day?
      ROGER: Yeah; it was just a couple hours.
      Q: I noticed that EMI is taking a pretty forward position on this, and as 
      of today (July 18, 2000) they are offering over one hundred albums for 
      purchase as a digital download, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Smashing 
      Pumpkins, and George Thorogood.
      ROGER: I wasn't aware of that, but that's a really big step. What format 
      are they allowing you to download it in? Is it in an MP3 format?
      Q: It sounds like it's not, because the news release I read about it said: 
      "Unlike the popular MP3 digital audio format, the WindowsMedia format 
      generally has higher quality playback while taking up less storage memory."
      ROGER: Okay, so it's in the WindowsMedia files, and they are probably 
      water-marked or something?
      Q: EMI mentioned that there is some kind of copyright management that 
      allows it to be copied only a certain number of times.
      ROGER: Well, you know, that's really interesting. That's a bold step for 
      them. I'm surprised that they are getting with it so fast.
      Q: So the songs that you have on the Internet are also available 
      for purchase as a CD?
      ROGER: Not all of them . . . So far I've got thirty-three (33) songs on 
      CDs available and I'm just compiling the next volume for Folk Den Vol. 4, 
      which will bring it up to forty-four songs available for purchase. But you 
      can't listen to them all on, I only keep six or seven of them 
      going at a time.
      Q: I noticed that there are two or three songs from each CD that you can 
      listen to on the site. Are they a short sample? 
      ROGER: No, the whole songs are there.
      Q: So you'll just keep adding more songs all the time, and Folk Den will 
      be Vol. 4, Vol. 5, Vol. 6, and so forth? 
      ROGER: Yeah, well, right. . . . If I do one a month, I can come up with at 
      least one CD a year.
      Q: That's terrific. What studio gear are you using to record your MP3s?
      ROGER: If you go to my web site, you can see the microphone I'm using. 
      There's a button on my main page that says Digital Audio. Click on that, 
      and you can see the microphone and the software I use. It's a large 
      diaphragm tube condenser mic, and it's really high quality.
      Q: So, is your recording system all software-based, or are you using any 
      kind of audio mixer?
      ROGER: It's all software-based.
      Q: I read that you had teamed up with Joan Baez for some recording, too.
      ROGER: Yes. Joan and I did, let's see, we did one song, "Wagoner's Lad," 
      and then I did two songs with Judy Collins, and two with Odetta, a couple 
      of songs with Pete Seeger, Jeanne Ritchie, and Tommy Makem.
      Q: That's pretty cool!
      ROGER: Yeah, it's going to be great!
      Q: Roger, you were very early in this whole thing about digital downloads 
      available from your web site. You were actually doing that before, 
      ROGER: Right. I was doing it in WAV files. I started out back in, I guess 
      about '92 or '93.
      Q: How did you become interested in making songs available like that?
      ROGER: I was browsing the web, and I came across Michael Nesmith's site, 
      and he had some audio files of his songs, but they were just like, samples 
      . . . thirty second snippets. And I thought, "that's really cool, you can 
      put songs on there, too." So, I kind of analyzed how he was doing it and 
      they were 8 bit, 11 kHz WAV files, so I got the technology together and 
      then started recording stuff in that format for my contributions to what 
      then was the Byrds' web page, on the University of Arkansas site. I put up 
      several different pieces . . . like the intro to Mr. Tambourine Man, 
      pieces of Turn, Turn, Turn. About five years ago, I decided to put up 
      complete folk songs, in order to preserve them, because nobody else was 
      doing that.
      Q: It's interesting that, as much as we've moved forward with the Internet 
      and other technology, it allows the potential to reduce, if not negate the 
      services of recording studios, producers, record companies, right down to 
      retail stores. Do you think that there will come a time when the majority 
      of musicians and music buyers do business this way, or will it always just 
      be a supplement to it? 
      ROGER: It's hard to say, but you're right. It has the potential to level 
      the playing field. However, these big guys are really big and powerful. 
      And as you said, EMI is just jumping into the digital music domain. I got 
      some email from Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer. He saw my 
      testimony at the Senate and agreed with me, and wanted to give me some 
      nice support. His opinion, and I agree with him, is that the big guys who 
      are running everything now will be running the MP3 or whatever its 
      successor is . . . so, they're not going to go away.
      Q: It seems like they really have to move with it, or it leaves them 
      ROGER: Yeah, right. Anyway, my reaction to him (Steve Wozniak) was that 
      yeah, that's probably true, but we're going to have some fun with them in 
      the meantime!
      Q: That's for sure!
      ROGER: It's kind of like radio was in the early ‘60s. FM radio was a new 
      thing and kind of uncharted territory, and when some experimental guys got 
      on there, and they would just play anything that came to mind. You know, 
      they would do sets of songs that had the word "blue" in it, or whatever 
      they wanted. It would just go all day long like that, until it became 
      extremely controlled, the way it is now.
      Q: It's interesting that you mention radio, because the Internet has been 
      described by many as being the "new radio." For many years, we've been 
      able to record music off the radio and it was ours, so to speak, and you 
      know the Internet, in a way, doesn't provide anything but just a different 
      format from which to collect that.
      ROGER: That was something I said at the Senate Hearing. It was exactly 
      that: I said, you know, radio stations get free CDs from record companies 
      and they play ‘em on the air and you can record them off the air so what's 
      the big problem, you know? They didn't like that, but it's true. In fact, 
      I would go so far as to say that with a good-quality FM receiver in a good 
      area close to the transmitter, and some good recording equipment, you'd 
      get a much better quality copy of the original than you would from an MP3 
      off the Internet.
      Q: It's just like so many other things: There are some better uses and 
      some less honorable uses of technology, which is the reason for the whole 
      controversy with Lars.
      ROGER: Right. You know, I don't think Lars knows what he's talkin' about, 
      but I mean, he does have a point that he's being ripped off, that's true. 
      His major concern was that unreleased demos were out there before he knew 
      it, and I see his problem there, but he's . . . he's missin' it! The best 
      thing about the whole thing is the publicity he gets.
      Q: And that has been plenty, but not all good. That's an example of how 
      many different angles there are, like you're using it to your benefit: 
      Actually to retain more control over your music.
      ROGER: Right. I have total control.
      Q: Whereas in his situation, he's feeling like he has lost control, you 
      ROGER: Right.
      Q: I was pretty surprised reading your statement to the Judiciary 
      Committee, and of course, this is not a new story, as far as royalties are 
      concerned, but I was really shocked to read case, after case, after case, 
      about the lack of money that you received for all of your recording 
      ROGER: Courtney Love did a speech at some Hollywood digital thing, in May. 
      She does the math with what happens with the record company, and I'll read 
      you some of that. I've got a copy of it here. 
      Courtney Love Does the Math, is the name of the article. She says, "Today 
      I want to talk about piracy in music. What's piracy? Piracy is the act of 
      stealing an artist's work without any intention of paying for it. I'm not 
      talking about Napster-type software, I'm talking about the major recording 
      contracts, major label recording contracts. I want to start with a story 
      about a rock band. . . . "
      Then she goes into this fictitious rock band that gets a huge deal with 20 
      percent royalty rate and a $1 million advance, and nobody has ever gotten 
      a 20 percent royalty, but this is for purposes of demonstration. And she 
      says, "What happens to the million dollars? They spend $500,000 recording 
      the album; that leaves the band $500,000. They give $100,000 to their 
      manager for 20 percent commission, and they paid $25,000 to their lawyer, 
      and $25,000 to the business manager. That leaves them with $350,000 for 
      four band members. They all get, well, after a $170,000 in taxes, they are 
      left with $180,000, or $45,000 a piece, and that's $45,000 to live on for 
      a year, until your record gets released. Now say the record is a big hit, 
      sells a million copies." Then she goes in to how that could happen: Well, 
      it's kind of a fixed thing, anyway, and then she talks about two videos, 
      and that "50 percent of the videos are recoupable, so the band gets 
      $200,000 and tour support and that's 100 percent recoupable, and the 
      company spends $300,000 on independent promotion, which is a way that 
      record companies use middle men, so that they pretend not to know that 
      radio stations get paid for playing the stuff on the air. And then the 
      independent promotion costs are charged back to the band. So the original 
      $1 million advance is also recoupable, so the band owes $2 million to the 
      record company, and if all million records are sold at a full price, with 
      no discounts, and the band earns $2 million in royalties since their 20 
      percent royalty works out to $2.00 a record. The $2 million in royalties, 
      minus $2 million in recupable expenses equals zero. The record company 
      makes $11 million; they spent $500,000 to manufacture the CDs, they 
      advanced the band a million, plus there is a million in video costs, 
      $300,000 in radio promotion, and $200,000 in tour support. The company 
      also paid $750,000 in music publishing royalties. They spent $2.2 million 
      on marketing, and that was mostly in retail advertising stuff." Anyway, it 
      adds up that the record company spent $4.4 million, and so their profit is 
      $6.6 million, and the band may as well be working at the Seven-Eleven."
      Q: Wow! Those are staggering numbers.
      ROGER: Yeah, and this is all fairly accurate stuff, you know? It's what 
      happened in every case of mine.
      Q: Royalty-wise, is that a situation that's left open-ended?
      ROGER: They don't close the books. They keep sending you statements that 
      you owe, you know, like $300,000. You don't have to pay them out of your 
      pocket, but they come out of future royalties and the number never seems 
      to go down. 
      So you know, the only good I ever got out of a record deal is getting a 
      hit record and then people came to concerts, and that did pay off. I mean, 
      there were times when I made a lot of money from concert appearances 
      because of the hit record, and I'm not complaining about that, but when 
      people complain about the Internet giving away the music, the point is . . 
      . we've been giving away the music anyway, so you might as well get the 
      most publicity you can out of it.
      Q: Interesting analogy. So, then, from the perspective of the record 
      company situation versus sales, it sounds like proportionally, 
      you're actually making much more through MP3 than you ever did with a 
      major label contract.
      ROGER: Yes, that's true. I've actually gotten paid royalties from
      Q: Roger, do you manage your own web site, and are you your own webmaster? 

      ROGER: Yeah, I learned HTML, and now you don't even need it, but it's good 
      to know. 
      Q: OK, let's move to some other Roger McGuinn business. Last year Martin 
      introduced the Limited Edition Roger McGuinn 12-string guitar, the 
      D12-42RM. Has that finished its production run? 
      ROGER: No, it's a two-year production run and it goes until the NAMM show 
      in January 2001, and it has been going eighteen months, now.
      Q: Are there a certain number of them that are being manufactured, or is 
      it all on the time line?
      ROGER: It's a time line. It's a two-year run. They wanted to do like 
      fifty, and we said, well, let's see what happens in two years.
      Q: I noticed that you are endorsing Pyramid Strings. Are they an old 
      guitar string company, or are they a new company that makes vintage-style 
      ROGER: I think it's an old company, an old German company. And they've 
      been making strings like that for many years, as far as I know. They are 
      simply the best strings I've ever played. They are like the old 
      Rickenbacker strings used to be, when they were hand-made in Germany. It's 
      the same technique; it's a high quality, nickel, flat-wound string.
      Q: There's a comment on your web site about a touring Byrds band that has 
      no original members. Does that cause any legal problems with the use of 
      the band name?
      ROGER: No, we lost the legal rights to the band name about five years ago, 
      when we sued Michael Clarke‘s band, and the judge favored him because he 
      was using it and we weren't. Then he (Michael Clarke) died and left it to 
      somebody. I don't know who has got it now, but they have the legal name . 
      . . which is, you know, stupid, but that's the way it is. . .
      Q: Here's kind of a tired question, but I think everybody always has to 
      ask: Do you foresee any reunions with any of the nostalgic cast of 
      ROGER: No. I don't see doing any albums or tours with them. Vanity Fair 
      magazine wants to do a photo shoot in late August, and we might get 
      together to do that.
      Q: I see that you are touring often with a trio. Does your set list differ 
      a lot from your solo shows?
      ROGER: Not too much. I do some of the stuff from the Folk Den, and some of 
      the Byrds hits that people wanna hear. It's just fuller with the harmonies 
      and everything. But I'm only doing that for a short time. That was just 
      like a little run for the summer. I wanted to take a bus out and do a bus 
      Q: Yeah, it looks like you've had a pretty busy summer so far.
      ROGER: Yeah, it's been busier than I expected. I was hoping to have the 
      time to just sit home and edit all the recordings I've done, but all these 
      dates have popped up.
      Q: Roger, you've long been known as a fan of technology, often being one 
      of the first in line to utilize new toys. I was wondering if you've ever 
      been involved in the actual development of anything?
      ROGER: Well, I did kind of invent something, but it was one of those 
      things that was hard to market at the time. You know those little 
      amplifiers that you plug into and you can tune up back stage. I made one 
      of those back in ‘65, and I tried to get it marketed, but it was too 
      difficult to go through all that . . . you know, I didn't have the right 
      contacts. It was like a Pignose kind of thing. I did that before anybody 
      Q: Roger, thanks very much for speaking with me today! 
      ROGER: I love talking about my MP3 stuff.
      Q: Shall I send you the URL for that EMI news release regarding their 
      downloadable albums? 
      ROGER: Oh yeah, do that. That's kind of interesting. But I'm really not a 
      fan of water-mark protected MP3s. I kind of like the wild and wooly 
      Internet the way it is.
      For more information about Roger McGuinn, go to for tour 
      dates, discography, news, and MP3.
      Roger McGuinn's MP3 site is at
      The Courtney Love article that Roger quotes from is located at
      Roger McGuinn's Senate testimony is located at
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