Wooden Wand – ‘Pirate’s Tale’

Singer/songwriter James Toth’s Wooden Wand has put out over 100 releases of both conventional and experimental folk, ranging from vinyl albums to CDRs and cassettes. James recounts an interesting encounter with online pirates…

The following article originally appeared as a letter in issue 332 of ‘The Wire’ –

Kudos to Amanda Brown for her eloquent and insightful Collateral Damage column (The Wire 331). Allow me to bore you with a particularly resonant episode from my own life, one Amanda’s article reminded me of.

A few years ago, I was rehearsing a new band for a tour, and to teach them a specific Wooden Wand song that I’d forgotten how to play, I thought I’d burn them each a copy of the album version to learn from. I didn’t happen to have a copy of the album handy, so I opened the Soulseek browser on my computer and found the song (immediately, natch). Because there were ‘no files shared’ on my computer, the user (an appropriate word if there ever was one) ‘banned’ me. For shits and giggles, I decided to browse the user’s shared folder, and sure enough, I found not only the entire Wooden Wand discography (no small feat, collecting all of that mess), but also albums I’d released on my labels and the work of many close friends.

I boldly messaged this art terrorist and very politely said something to the effect of, “Hi, umm, this is awkward, but you just ‘banned’ me and you’re ‘sharing’ my work – I’m Wooden Wand. Heh heh. Anyway, I need to teach the band this song – can you un-ban me for just a few minutes while I get this one song? I know I’m not sharing any files, but since you’re stealing from me, maybe we can just call it even for now?” I thought surely that any reasonable person would reply with due embarrassment, and quickly apologise and lift the ‘ban’, maybe even try to make light of the whole thing. But the user was unrepentant – even belligerent – and said, “Sorry – no files shared, you get banned.” We went back and forth for a bit, but the user remained unmoved by my appeals.

So you see, there is a perverse sort of ethic at work among these file sharing pirates, a sort of ‘honour among thieves’. But, operating just like the proverbial evil major label gatekeepers we’ve all fought so hard to make obsolete, these compulsive uploaders are making sure the artists remain last in a long line to recieve any type of reward for their blood, sweat and tears (all of which I have shed at my jobs painting houses and laying drywall, incidentally).

I also think my run-in with this pirate is symptomatic of the faceless digital culture Amanda describes in her article. Consider that any budding dungeonmaster can easily become an Ultimate Fighter, a Bryan Ferry or a Dave Eggers from behind a computer screen. But if I were to confront, as the kids say, ‘IRL’, this user who banned me from accessing my own music, I reckon the odds are pretty good he’d be reduced to a stuttering, obsequious dipshit within seconds.

Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried to grab something from the Black Flag merch table without paying for it?

By James Toth (Wooden Wand)

For more information about Wooden Wand, you can visit their official website and Facebook page. Also, don’t forget to check out M3’s recent interview with James.


About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.


  1. Hi James

    1) Sorry per advance for my pitiful english

    2) The title is dishonest. “James recounts an interesting encounter with online pirateS”, using the plural, when only one interaction with one person is described.

    3) James, did you envisage the fact that the person sharing Wooden Wand music didn’t believe you really were James Toth ? You can’t imagine how much lies leechers (people who not share anything and just take music from others) are sometimes ready to tell to not get banned on Soulsick.
    If he believed you, i agree with what you say, he is a total moron. But really, only an tiny tiny percentage of Soulsick users would act this way and you can’t extrapolate a “perverse file sharer mentality” from this stupid guy.

    4) Friends of mine who have downloaded all your stuff on Soulseek have hosted you in their venues, have helped your booking agent (Alfonso) to find you shows in other cities, and of course have also bought your records. You (and Amanda Brown too) should really ask to people coming to your shows (and at your mech table !), to promoters booking you, to people interviewing you etc. how they did discover you : online culture sharing would be a very common answer. People supporting artists AND doing online culture sharing are not a minority. Most of serious studies show that people practicing online culture sharing also spend more money on culture than anyone else (list of studies here : http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/Studies_on_file_sharing#The_.22pirates.22_are_better_consumers_of_.22legal.22_culture… You’ll see even an Hadopi (the french anti “piracy” organization) study acknowledges this fact).

    5) Your last sentence is a really strange comparison (i know it is also a joke, but well, not only a joke). “Can you imagine what would happen if someone grabbed something from the Black Flag merch table without paying for it BUT THEN AFTER THAT ALL THE MERCH WAS STILL ON THE TABLE” would be more appropriate, because that is exactly what culture sharing is.
    I don’t say there is no ethicals and economics problems behind culture sharing. There is, obviously. But it is a complex issue and can’t be compared to theft.

    6) feel free to answer me, via comment or email

    7) sorry again for my pitiful english

    8) M3event should offer other ways to post comments, i had to create a twitter account especially for it, grrrrrr.


    olivié from Amour & Discipline (collective webzine & donation platform) & Grrrnd Zero (DIY french venue)
    email : propaganda@amour-discipline.org

  2. Pingback: Interview – Wooden Wand « M3 Event

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