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4 October, 2007

Sharing the Wes

I've known of John 'Wes' Wesley for several years, first as guitar tech and support artist for Marillion, then lead guitarist (and co-writer of 'Fellini Days') for Fish, and most recently as second guitarist/vocalist whenever Porcupine Tree tours.  He also has a solo career; in 2005 he released his very impressive fifth studio album, 'Shiver'.

Unfortunately, his profile is a little too low for major distributors, and most of his back catalogue has been difficult to obtain. As Wes explains at his Myspace site he's driven by a need to create and perform: "for me to continue to create music, I have to know that people are hearing it.". At the end of August, he instituted a remarkable new policy, recently imitated by an obscure Oxford-based band called 'Radiohead'.

Wes' entire catalogue, featuring over fifty songs, is now available from his Myspace site as .mp3 downloads, on a 'pay what you want' basis. Apparently, he's happy for people to take the albums as entirely free downloads, on one condition:

The only thing I ask in return is that if you choose to download the music and add it to your collection, you 'Share the Wes' with everyone you know that may have an interest in the music that I create.
Point them to the site and encourage them to discover the music I have created over the course of my career, and then encourage them to share it!
If you like the music, go to the 'Demand it' button on my site, tell me where you are, and hopefully at some point in the future I can come near to where you are and 'Share the Wes' live.
Obviously, "music is not free to create", and this isn't just a hobby, so he's accepting PayPal donations. My own view is that if one likes an album, one should donate something in the region of the full commercial price, but Wes welcomes any contributions.

This policy doesn't mean he's giving up on CDs, not least because there's still a considerable market for physical objects with artwork, and the sound quality of CD Audio vastly exceeds that of .mp3. Hence, CDs remain available for sale from Wes' main website, at concerts, and via major retailers who happen to stock his in-print albums. Any future albums will also be solely sold on CD and SNOCAP (commercial download) for an initial period after release, rather than being made available for free via the 'Share the Wes' programme immediately.

Personally, I already owned 'Chasing Monsters' and 'Shiver' on CD, so took the opportunity to download the foregoing one, 'The Emperor Falls'. It was certainly impressive enough to justify full payment, so I went one better: I bought the CD.
In my opinion, the major flaw in donating or buying directly from Wes is that though he'll receive greater financial benefit than if distributors and retailers take cuts too, he'll rapidly become invisible to the mainstream market. That's why, at least on this occasion, I bought 'The Emperor Falls' from Amazon, reasoning that increased sales there could boost industry awareness a little. Perhaps that doesn't particular matter, if word-of-mouth means the music will still reach those interested. Either alternative has advantages and disadvantages.

A month on, Wes has reported back with the result of his announcement: since 24 August, over 17,000 albums have been downloaded by old and new listeners all over the world. Excellent! Let's hope a significant proportion paid, but the main objective is clearly working.

Your turn. Download. Listen. Share the Wes.

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