Steve Miller on Recording, Illegal Downloading and Being Boxed In


It has been 17 years since The Steve Miller Band put out an album.

When I spoke with Miller last week about his new release, Bingo!, a covers album of old blues tunes, he talked about how his fans reacted the last time he put out a record, recording at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch and his feelings on the current state of the music industry.

Read more with Miller in this week's issue of Boise Weekly.

Miller on choosing songs for
Bingo! and how his audiences react when he performs them:

I wanted to pick songs I thought my audience would really, really like when we played live. In '93 I did a new album and I'd say, 'Well, OK, now we're going to do some songs from Wide River.' Five thousand people would get up and go get a hotdog and a beer and not come back until they heard the opening chords of "Fly Like An Eagle." I thought, 'This is so weird. Why would people get that way?'

But that's just sort of the box you get into when you're a classic rock act. We slip [songs from Bingo!] into the set. Because they were all big, big, huge hits, they're going over great. We don't particularly tell [the audience] we're going to play one. I just sort of say, "Hi, we have a new album it's called Bingo! here's the first song.' Before the song is over, they're really liking it. [On this tour] we're doing all the greatest hits and seven songs from Bingo!, so they really fit into the show and they keep the energy rolling right along. That's what I really wanted."

Miller on why he chose to record at Skywalker Ranch:

Since computers have destroyed the record business, all the recording studios are out of business. All the good engineers are retired. All the people who made those tape recorders have all gone out of business. Skywalker is still in business because George Lucas is this multibillionaire guy who has his own company. He actually maintains a big-time soundstage with a staff of 10 people, good engineers and good technicians and everything is in good shape. That was the only place in Northern California that we could go to really make a record.

And here, Miller really gets into his feelings about illegal downloading and changes in the music industry:

Technology is so great because you have teenagers walking around with 10,000 tunes in their iPods, when I was, like, the hippest guy in ninth grade because I had 32 albums. Their knowledge is much broader, but the stealing of music has ruined it. The damage done is so much deeper than I think anybody realizes, and on so many levels. There are so few studios left in the world. Times are really changing. Music is nowhere near as important to kids as it was when we were growing up. Now, there's a trillion-dollar-a-year business selling crap to teenagers. And they're buying it.

Technology has done a lot of damage to intellectual arts. You know, I spent $300,000 making this record; I'll never do that again. We'll never get that back in sales. The album came out and it was like, 'No. 1 on the blues charts! No. 11 on the rock charts! No. 37 in the Top 200 the first week out! I was like, 'That's great! How many did we sell?' They were like, 'Uh, 12,000.' 12,000? That's it? You can chart like that? That would have been 400,000 records 15 years ago.

What that means is that there's no money so people are just goofing around and making bad-sounding stuff. People always have to have music in their lives, but I think there's going to be a long period here of crap that's going to make Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon look good. If Lady Gaga is really what it's all about, then musicians can take a break for a few years.