There are official websites. There are fan websites. And then there is
What makes this official site from the Sony/Columbia label so special is
that it features full audio -- not snippets -- of rare, unreleased
recordings by folk-rock pioneer Bob Dylan. This is especially remarkable
in an era when so many record companies are worried about music piracy.
A recent visit to bobdylan.com found such delectable items as the
iconoclastic singer/songwriter's early classic "Girl From The North
Country," performed earlier this year at The Theater at Madison Square
Sick" (RealAudio excerpt), a song from his most recent album,
Time Out Of Mind, as performed at this year's Grammy Awards
ceremony; and tracks from his 1993 run at New York City's Supper Club,
when he performed mostly traditional folk songs.
Bobdylan.com, much to the delight of Dylan fanatics and collectors, also
features selections from the wealth of unreleased studio recordings. An
alternate take of "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" from 1965 is
just one of the treasures on the site.
Begun in 1997 with the full cooperation of Sony/Columbia (the record
company that releases Dylan's music), this one-of-a-kind site is edited
and produced by Dan Levy, book editor and Bob Dylan fan. Sony's
involvement is indicative of the label's regard for one of its
longest-running artists. (Except for two albums, Dylan has been with the
company since 1962.)
Levy credits Sony for its desire to create such a site and points to its
other innovative projects, such as the interactive CD-ROM of Dylan's
classic 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited (1995) and a CD-Extra
version of his Greatest Hits, Volume 3 (1994), as evidence of the
company's support of technology.
But why is Sony so unconcerned with song piracy? After all, the
Recording Industry Association of America, numerous record companies and
the representatives of significant artists such as Pearl Jam, Madonna
and Alanis Morissette have been quick to prevent unreleased music from
getting on the Web in any form.
Mark Ghuneim, Columbia Records' vice president of online and emerging
technologies, stressed that this rare Dylan music is on the company's
site, not a fan site. "Bobdylan.com is consistent with Columbia's policy
to put the artists themselves online, not just information," Ghuneim
said. "Check out our sites for Slayer and Maxwell, and you'll see it's
the case with those as well. It's consistent with our growth plan since
1993 when we went online."
As for Levy's involvement, Ghuneim was enthusiastic. "Dan Levy
understands Dylan extremely well. He's brought a lot to the party."
Even Dylan's management has approved the site, Ghuneim said, adding that
the label is working "with the artist as much as possible."
Fan interest in the site has been phenomenal, Levy said. "[Dylan's fans]
have been quite positive, more so than I expected. Dylan fans are
notoriously picky, and some of the pickiest are friends of mine."
The site's mail-ordering feature also has proven very popular, Levy
said. Most recently, tickets for Dylan's West Coast concert tour with
Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison were sold through the site, and "most
people have been very happy with the seats they've received."
Again praising Sony's dedication, Levy pointed out that artist sites
such as bobdylan.com are rare because of the amount of time and
resources necessary to do one properly. But he believes fan sites "do a
good job" interpretating lyrics, telling stories about people's feelings
and interacting with the artists. He also said some of the best
unofficial sites "take on a narrow subject and illuminate it
beautifully." He highlighted a few devoted to Dylan, such as the Slow
Train Coming Home Page, Tangled Up In Jews and Bob Links
Bobdylan.com is surprisingly easy to keep going, Levy said. "The hard
part is coming up with a steady flow of good editorial material." The
site currently features actor Peter Coyote's reminiscences about growing
up with Dylan's music and an exploration of the cornucopia of Dylan
recordings that are unavailable on CD in America.
There's also a RealAudio version of a broadcast in which noted rock
critic and Addicted To Noise contributor Greil Marcus was
interviewed about his book, "Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement
Noting that the biggest jump in traffic on bobdylan.com occurred after
Dylan won three Grammys in February (including Album of the Year for
Time Out of Mind), Levy said he was "interested to see what
happens as [the artist's current] tour progresses. This summer, Bob
Dylan will be playing extensively in Europe, and I hope that increases
traffic from other countries to the site."