Berklee Interviews Gail

You know something? I was going to write a massive post related to this interview with Gail (mailed to me by many), but to be honest: I figured life is too short as it is. I’ll leave you with a couple of choice quotes though.

Mike: How are you working to expose new listeners to Frank’s music? If a lot of Frank’s catalog is unavailable digitally, and physical retail is cutting back with their inventory, what other ways are you working to expose potential fans to Frank’s music?

Gail: [...] For me, any kind of release that we get out there helps to sell everything. I mean, people think I’ve planned, perhaps with Dweezil, how to do this and Dweezil has certainly contributed to introducing music to a younger audience, for the most part, so that already exists. I get letters from people that are fourteen or under all the time that are interested in the music. The problem is, is that you are fighting a huge battle. It’s great that Dweezil is out there performing the music because the saddest part is that he comes closest to having produced the band that I think Frank would’ve actually hired himself, including Dweezil on “stunt guitar”. That would have been ideal, but there’s nothing else out there that touches that band, in terms of Dweezil’s intention with respect to what he is trying to accomplish with musicians of that caliber.

… and:

Gail: [...] Although the term “digital rights”, at the time of his death and the time of the sale, didn’t exist, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t thinking about them and planning ahead for what would best serve the value of the copyrights that remained with me. So he was thinking about his family at the time and he wanted to protect those rights. That’s part A. Part B is that I am not a fan of iTunes. I am not a fan of their growth through their overbearing means by which they have a reduced value of music. First, they taught everyone how to steal it and then they said,” Oops, sorry here’s how you can pay for it really cheap!” So you know, I’m not a fan of that and I’m not a fan of price-fixing, which is something they do. You don’t have a lot of choice in what you can offer and how you can offer it. I mean they just have rules and I understand that it is probably just a by-product of some of their programming issues but there should be other choices. I believe that the future is that there will be other choices and they will be on every artists own fan site or a conglomerate consortium of artists’ fan sites that’s not controlled by an outside party that does not respect artist’s rights. The part C of this answer, is that up until fairly recently and even still today, the sounds are massively compressed, they are not the way the artist intended them to be presented to an audience for an audiophile experience. So there was a reason for me to engage in that.

Make of that what you want.

18 Responses to “Berklee Interviews Gail”

  1. Hugo says:

    I have to say that I entirely agree with Gail. The problem however, is that she’s not following the path that Frank set when he was talking about music distribution. If she doesn’t like mp3 and iTunes and everything, why isn’t she publishing it like Nine Inch Nails and many others: FLAC (no compression, loseless quality) and with a permissive license (e.g. creative commons by-sa-nc)?

    I think the problem is that she’s afraid of making the big jump Frank was ready to make a decade before everyone. After all, the problem is not so about copyright, or quality or digital rights… but about making money from this.

  2. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Hugo:

    I think the problem is that she’s afraid of making the big jump Frank was ready to make a decade before everyone. After all, the problem is not so about copyright, or quality or digital rights… but about making money from this.

    So how exactly do you “entirely agree” with Gail there?

  3. Hugo says:

    Indeed, she’s just afraid. She makes all the big statements about copyright. But the real problem for her, is money!

    she says later in the interview:
    “No, that’s clearly not the American way and it’s the same with copyrights. If you want to give your music away for free, that doesn’t mean you get to join a group that’s going to take apart everyone else’s rights just because that’s what you believe. You have a choice. Go ahead. Give it away. If you think that that’s the best way to market your music, by never being able to earn a living from doing that, great. Join that fabulous club and enjoy.”

  4. Hugo says:

    A quote from Barry’s Imaginary Publisher:

    A quote from Hugo:

    I think the problem is that she’s afraid of making the big jump Frank was ready to make a decade before everyone. After all, the problem is not so about copyright, or quality or digital rights… but about making money from this.

    So how exactly do you “entirely agree” with Gail there?

    well, if you take part A, B and C separately and altogether. She’s right. Copyright is important, iTunes sucks and we want good audio quality.

    However, it doesn’t mean she’s right on the rest :)

  5. C-H says:

    What utter tosh. This confirms what I learned from the CBC documentary, which is that GZ understands nothing about music or the music business: what she does have is a complex emotional attachment to the assets she’s been left with, and a few “facts” which she weaves into pretend justifications for her actions, with the ultimate fall-back of “It’s what Frank would have wanted” even if it contradicts what he actually said and did when he was alive.

    Looking at the second extract, she seems to be conflating iTunes with all the various methods of unrestricted file-sharing that have evolved with the internet. The fact is that FZ’s music, both official releases and untold numbers of bootlegs, were already circulating in that way along with every other artist’s music, it’s still going on and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. To deny sales via iTunes and all the other legal music download services will only drive people to seek out illegal downloads that might have bought a CD or legal download if it was available, so she’s then lost money and control of that release.

  6. davidrog says:

    I think this part of the interview reveals quite a bit about Gail’s thought process as well:

    Mike: Are you or Joe (Travers) releasing material from the vault based on fan demand?

    Gail: No. We’ve been releasing things based on what we think is a good thing to release. Joe makes classic arguments over and over again for releasing certain types of things that he’s knows the fans are interested in and those arguments that he makes influence some of the releases, in terms of what the contents might be; I certainly consider his opinion absolutely but my first obligation to Frank is to educate. First, you have to have a context in which you can release these things. For me, I can’t just put out a record and not have some background to it. Recently, we put out The Torture Never Stops as a DVD and this was made as a television show, because Frank had an idea that this would work on TV but this was very early on and nobody (in broadcasting) wanted to see these crazy edits that he was doing so there was a lot of resistance. So the concert, in different forms, ended up on USA Network and on MTV but Frank’s version which he created as a television special, was one particular thing that he put together himself. So my obligation, I feel, to the audience is to put out first what Frank created and then I can go back and take all of that footage, which we intended to do and are in the process of working on, and remix it in surround and put out the whole of the concert series in a big package down the road. But first, you have to see what Frank’s intention was and then you can go back to other opportunities where you can have your way with the material.

    First of all, ignoring the fan base in deciding what to release from the vault is a real slap in the face to all of us who might or will be purchasing future releases.

    Second, this notion that she is “educating” us with these releases makes it seem like we don’t know anything about Frank’s music or his real intentions behind each album. I think Gail would find that the majority of Frank’s fans have a good grasp of his music, and probably have a better idea of what treasures are lurking in the Vault than she does.

    Lastly, the majority of the ZFT releases are projects that Frank completed before his passing. Very few “new” projects have been put together by them alone. I love Zappa Plays Zappa, but I’d (perhaps selfishly) prefer that Joe and Dweezil dig up some items from the Vault and work on them instead. I’m 52 years old, and I don’t want to be 70 when the Roxy & Elsewhere DVDs are finally released!

  7. Thinman says:

    Another time-waster. I feel nobody needs to be “educated” by Gail Zappa. And what would be the “education” intended with ZFT-releases? To learn that FZ did things that were not so good?

    Th.

  8. Dark Clothes says:

    People have been educated by Frank Zappa to the extent that they find Gail’s authoritarian behaviour repulsive.

    Unlike Thinman I enjoy most of the ZFT releases, though. I only wish that Gail could care for the fan’s wishes, because they’re often better informed than her own impulses.

  9. Danny says:

    She’s a witch, pure and simple. Well, maybe not so pure…..

  10. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    I’ll tell you what irritates me (the most) about this interview with Gail The Entrepreneur Who Knows Better: it’s her casual dismissal of iTunes and other (legal!) digital download services in general.

    Her focus shouldn’t as much be on “will the ZFT make a profit” (which it would), rather it should be on: “will Frank Zappa’s music remain widely, easily, legally available” to an audience which by and large, has long shifted from buying CDs (in old-school record shops that hold less and less of the back catalogue, as well as BarfkoSwill type, over-expensive online shops) to purchasing digital downloads. Keeping FZ’s back catalogue out of those online services is actively encouraging people to download his music illegally.

    I’m all for “The Composer’s Intent” and such, but I’d reckon his very first intent would have been: “Get My Music Out There For It To Be Heard By As Many People As Possible”. It’s almost a crime to keep it hidden away from these mainstream legal digital outlets, to such a large potential audience.

  11. Slap says:

    To begin with, I don’t hold her iTunes reluctance against her, if only because the Apple Corps folks have also been really hesitant to commit, at least until the last year or so. I gotta figure there is something about the iTunes model that makes some catalog shepherds feel less than warm and fuzzy about jumping into bed with them.

    That said — this “education” mindset is truly whacked. I never perceived that FZ was trying to “educate” me — I did, however, feel that he was EXPOSING me to new sounds and ideas. There’s a huge difference: the latter approach says “hey, this is cool, looky!”; the former says “here’s something, now let me explain it to you in case you don’t appear to understand it with the insight that I do”.

    Bits I’ve read about some folks’ encounters with the Trust seem to indicate that the level of condescension and arrogance is very high, and difficult to handle for long. To date, I’ve yet to see an interview with GZ that is free of that particular aroma. She occasionally makes statements that are relatively fume-free — she is, after all, a highly intelligent human with a good vocabulary.

    I do understand that the keepers of the legacy of any literary or musical figure, if they’re responsible stewards, must necessarily be pretty tuned in to the artist’s intentions regarding their work. Sometimes that’s a straitjacket that limits the available options for action, unfortunately; sometimes, it’s a good thing.

    “Bonus” or “Previously Unreleased” tracks, included on reissues and box sets, are a good example in both directions. Sometimes, the unreleased or demo versions are revelatory and startling (example: on Bowie’s Diamond Dogs reissue, there’s an alternate version of Sweet Thing/Candidate that is a completely different version than what ended up on the album; the released version fits into the album narrative much better, but the unreleased version is a beast worth consuming on its own). Other times, the only sane response is “y’know, there’s clearly a damn good reason this wasn’t released” (example, the reissue of Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus — which SHOULD have been number 2 or 3 on my list of fifteen albums, but that’s another thread — contains a couple of single mixes, and some alternate takes or unreleased tunes that sound like they wouldn’t have made the cut on their worst effort.)

    In this respect, the ZFT/Vault deal is a situation that is insane in extremis, given the enormity of the archive. If it were MY daughter, I’d…

    1. Give priority to finding everything that FZ was finishing up, or had worked on to some degree. Eliminate anything that is clearly unfinished (e.g., anything that would involve another composer or musician coming in to “infer” direction from what was left undone), find some way to organize it, and release it on a defined schedule.

    2. Create a version of the “Dick’s Picks” series, and make it available on iTunes. Release every concert, in full, for which there are tapes in the vault — and which were not worked on by Frank. An ongoing Beat the Boots series, if you will.

    3. Give Joe complete run of setting up releases based on the quality of what’s out there.

    4. Set up a fan “tickler file” of requests for particular shows or events, and indicate the status of each in some online format (like, “our recording of this show is missing 30 minutes from the end due to tape deterioration”, “we have a complete performance with fair quality audio”, that sort of thing.) Once or twice a year, release items in an ongoing series of “You Asked For It….” concert releases.

    5. Get the damned Roxy and Token of my Extreme DVDs done and out there. (Actually, these would be my personal FIRST priority. But that’s just me.)

    6. Get Frank Sheffer’s documentaries released worldwide. (If you really want to “educate”, Mrs. Z, these docs are the gold standard, and you won’t do better with any other filmmaker.)

    7. And remember that the artist’s intent, when touring, was to ENTERTAIN his audience.

    Look, us FZ fans are a bizarre bunch ranging from the “I alone know the truth” types (alt.fan.frankzappa, anyone?) to the “play yellow snooooooow!!!!!” types. No matter what’s released, there’ll be people who love every tidbit, people who pick and choose, and people whose arrogant condescension rivals or exceeds the Trust’s.

    Oh, one more thing I’d do:
    8. Rescind the cease and desist bullshit regarding the fan sites. Quit painting all fan sites with the same broad brush. This is the line I’d draw: if NO ONE is making a profit (after legit hosting expenses), the site stays. If the site is generating income based on Zappa content, give the site a chance to pay reasonable licensing and continue, or face sanctions otherwise.

    Part of keeping the legacy alive is nurturing fan interest, not squashing it. People are not interested in curate’s eggs, and by attempting to foist some version of the artist’s Purity of Intent as the exclusive and singularly accepted viewpoint, the legacy runs the risk of becoming fossilized and something that future generations MIGHT find.

  12. Pablo says:

    (…) on stage, he would introduce Stravinsky, Varèse, and Bartok, you know, all sorts of composers and lots of R&B music that he loved when he was a kid and he went out of his way to make sure people heard those sounds and heard that music. It wasn’t so important from them to know who the composer was until he did interviews; you don’t have to announce it on stage because then people don’t really pay attention. The fact is that their ears are being trained; I can’t do the ear training that Frank did but I can constantly reinforce the idea that there is a basis; there is a history behind all of this stuff. It’s based in intention; the composer’s intent is everything. So you can’t just have somebody interpret Frank’s music because in many cases it’s no different than identity theft or character assassination. When people just take it into their own hands and arrange it without getting permission and do terrible things to it that were never intended – because for them it’s easier to play that way. So I feel that I have a really strong contract with Frank Zappa to get that music out there the way that he intended it and that’s the other part of how the releases work.

    **I wonder when we’ll find an interviewer who answer Gail’s reasoning with just two words: “Ravel’s bolero”

  13. jabbatheprawn says:

    ”all of the above”

  14. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Slap:

    To begin with, I don’t hold her iTunes reluctance against her, if only because the Apple Corps folks have also been really hesitant to commit, at least until the last year or so. I gotta figure there is something about the iTunes model that makes some catalog shepherds feel less than warm and fuzzy about jumping into bed with them.

    Slap (et all): I agree with most if not all of the points you make in your comment. The thing is that you’re observing this as someone who is already well acquainted with Frank Zappa’s music – as most of us here are: we own pretty much the whole official catalog, and we’re interested in what new stuff the ZFT might release.

    What about the 12-year-old ignorant kid who happens to hear an FZ-tune, and wants to get more of his music? Where is that kid going to go? Online! Only to find it is not available there – at least not legally.

    As for iTunes and the like: Gail has a gripe with “fixed pricing” but that is the business model iTunes adheres to: keep the price low, and sell by the volume. Profit-wise, it evens out (at the very least). Host those albums on a site/service that does not have the kind of exposure iTunes gets, and well yes, you’re going to have to sell at a higher price. Both models can co-exist, perhaps even compliment eachother (e.g. lossless vs lossy downloads).

  15. Bongo Bob says:

    I like this quote:

    andre cholmondeley
    Sep 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    …. My favorite part — as always — is where she reminds us that Frank “..would introduce Stravinsky, Varèse, and Bartok, you know, all sorts of composers and lots of R&B music that he loved when he was a kid and he went out of his way to make sure people heard those sounds and heard that music…” Then she slams the door on anyone doing THE SAME EXACT THING — i.e. playing and re-arranging Frank’s music. So– he could do it– No one else can do the same for HIS music. Makes sense. ….

  16. davidrog says:

    Is Gail aware that some of Frank’s music is already on iTunes? Both “Birthday Bundles” and a couple of “Beat The Boots” are on it. Also, the “Classic Album: Overnite Sensation/Apostrophe” can be bought (or rented) as well as the 2 “Saturday Night Live” episodes that FZ appeared on (although Gail probably doesn’t have a say in selling these SNL shows.)

    A large amount of Frank’s music was also available on (the legit) Napster site for several years before the ZFT withdrew it all. So she has gone that route in the past.

    I’m sure that most music collector’s would prefer Lossless music files (FLAC, SHN or WAV) over Lossy (WMA or MP3) files. The only reason that people buy Lossy tracks is to put them onto portable music devices like iPods or iPhones, which won’t upload Lossless files.

    What’s stopping Gail from offering all of Frank’s music in both Lossy and Lossless formats on Zappa.com? She’s already doing that with “Mothermania” and “FZ Plays The Music of FZ” (at exorbitant prices of course!) And she could add any new Vault releases to the site as well.
    The ZFT would make a ton of money doing this, and I imagine that they will charge more money per song than iTunes would.

  17. Bongo Bob says:

    I also found this telling:

    Mike: Are you or Joe releasing material from the vault based on fan demand?

    Gail: No. We’ve been releasing things based on what we think is a good thing to release.

  18. Jamez says:

    Two words, Gail: ROXY DVD!!!!!

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