"The Internet is the best thing that has ever happened to music in the history of music," said Adam Duritz, lead singer of Counting Crows. "It's just not necessarily the best thing that's happened to record companies because they won't look at it the right way."
Record companies may not get the Internet, seeing it as a threat. For Duritz, it's become another avenue for expression. He maintains a blog as well as an online magazine called Rabbit Down the Hole. As a band, Counting Crows have even launched a foundation to help others called the Greybird Foundation.
When Counting Crows were ready to end the six-year gap between Hard Candy and Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings in March 2008, Duritz had a plan for how to re-introduce the band and their new album to listeners. Reaching the top of the charts has never been easy and repeating past successes can sometimes be even more difficult. Six-year absences rarely make that task easier.
Introducing a new record in the current music industry environment is a challenge in and of itself. Saturday Nights& Sunday Mornings potentially posed an even greater challenge being, in essence, two records housed on one single CD. Duritz says the band has always thought more in terms of albums than singles throughout their history. Breaking one album in the current environment is hard. Properly introducing two? Good luck. As for finding an audience, well, that's become nearly impossible for everyone. Still, Duritz had a plan.
"What it [the Internet] really is [is] … the world's biggest billboard and it's free," he said. "It's a free billboard and you have to look at it that way. You've got to stop trying to cling to every thing and attack the people who are taking from you and start using it to promote yourself.
"It's fucking free. Use your fucking brain. It's free. How much does it take to wake you up to the fact that it's free? I'm awake to it."
Duritz wanted to give away a "digital 45" from the album for free, one song from Saturday Nights, one from Sunday Mornings. Two albums, two singles. Free.
"It was necessary to convince them (the record label) you can give a few things away and create enough goodwill that they come back and pay for it," he said. "People will pay for music. They just won't pay for music if they think you're an asshole."
In exchange, Duritz would compromise and allow the label to release "You Can't Count On Me" as the first single, a choice he wasn't entirely comfortable with. He's proud of the song, but thinks it needs to be heard in the context of the album. He would have preferred to release "1492," "Hanging Tree," or "Washington Square" as the first single, but he was willing to go along with the label — for a price.
"I said either you let us release '1492' and 'Michaelangelo' as a pair of digital downloads for free and put them everywhere we can over the 'net or I'm not having anything to do with it," said Duritz.
The label refused and Duritz pulled the album from the release schedule. It took a meeting with Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine to break the impasse.
"I'll give this to Jimmy, he's been a visionary throughout his entire career with the stuff he's done," said Duritz. "We may disagree on some stuff musically, he may be more of a business guy than I am nowadays, but he had the vision to see that we had a plan. It worked. Those two songs introduced people to what our album was like, a lot of people. We sent it to every blog we could. Everybody got it. Everybody put it up or linked to it and people heard a picture of the record."
Things got contentious, but Duritz sees the problem not so much with the people at the label as with the system itself. He encounters a lot of smart, creative people who work in the industry but they seem handcuffed by a bad system created by conglomerates that have everything to do with money and little to do with music.
With a compromise reached, "You Can't Count On Me" was released and Duritz got his digital 45. The results? Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 album charts. Duritz doesn't believe in coincidences — at least not in this case.
"Most people do 10 percent, maybe 15 percent of their business sales online and the occasional band does 20," said Duritz. "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings did 40 percent in its first week. That's why we ended up at number three. We've been gone for ages. There's no way our record should have been anywhere near it but that online stuff pushed us to number three."
He still thinks "You Can't Count On Me" was the wrong choice for a first single, but a combination of the digital 45, a bold plan, and the resolve to fight for the plan and record have put the band back on top.
"It was a compromise," he said. "I wanted that digital 45. I wanted those free downloads. I knew that was the most important thing and it worked, too."
Duritz sees the Internet as more than a way to push album sales, though. There is still a staggering untapped potential for what can be done through the Internet.
"There's a big world out there right now that's everyone linked and connected to everyone else," he said. "There's a world out there of people who love music and because of the Internet are getting a chance to write about it and talk about it who maybe didn't get a job at someplace bigger but they can do it online. Three's a huge world out there of interconnected people who respect and are thoughtful about music.
"There's no way a machine that connects everyone in the world for free is a bad thing. That's just not how the world works. Communication does not fuck the world up."
Hear the full interview with Adam Duritz on the B-Sides Concept Album program.