I like Jack White
a lot. I think much of what he tends to do is the Right Thing to do in a world where those that are supposed to know what to do (the record labels) really don't. With the announcement that Third Man Records, White's label, is selling limited edition vinyl releases via auction on eBay
, I think he's continuing to do the right thing.
I'll back up a second and tell a story that Mark Evanier
has told on his blog
(which is voluminous enough that, at the moment, I can't actually find the actual story. I'm pretty sure it's there somewhere.) The story goes that Jack Kirby
, the legendary (and legendarily underpaid) comic book artist was asked at a comic convention to draw a sketch for a young fan. One of the legendary things Kirby was apparently legendary for was his ability to dash off a sketch incredibly quickly, and he did so for the kid, who then turned around and shouted for all to hear that he had an an "original Jack Kirby sketch" now available for sale.
Kirby saw to it that it was the last time anyone would be able to make that claim.
White claims there's a guy in a black SUV who pays homeless people to stand in line around Third Man Records in Nashville whenever there's a limited vinyl release going up for sale, and frankly, I believe him, even if the guy in the SUV is metaphorical...because someone
makes serious coin from auctioning White's releases, and up 'til now, it wasn't Jack. Rather than react the way Kirby did, he's doing his own scalping, and I think his reasoning's pretty intact. If you want it, you want it, and if you're willing to pay a premium to get it, you'll pay White. If you don't want it, shaddap.
There's a fundamental understanding of the "object of desire" at work here, too, and it's something Factory's Tony Wilson
(not the best businessman in the world, but a great pop culture theorist) espoused
as well: the value of music is really no greater than the value of its packaging. Music itself is ephemeral, and it was only the ability to capture it and sell it as a package that catapulted the recording industry into the lofty financial position it was once in; it's the fact that it no longer controls the means of replication, and its complete ignorance of that loss of control until it was too late, that has sent it
into the death spiral it's currently enjoying.
But the fact that Jack White chose to start a record label in this day and age, and has done so with the nearly obsolete but oh-so-tangible vinyl record as its platform of choice, tells me he had a different set of ideas in mind regarding how one should run a record label. Yes, of course, he wants to create music and sell it, but as important as that is, it's just as important to him how
he sells it. So when he sees people making money off his releases, he doesn't do what a record label would typically do (sue the profiteers, probably unsuccessfully, or if successful, sink a lot of money into legal fees before seeing a penny, if one is seen at all.)
No, he profits from his own work. That's sort of what the artists beholden to the classic record industry should have been allowed to do all along, but the record industry was too busy making money to cut them in on the deal. Thankfully, times change.