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Ani DiFranco: "Music Sharing Is Essential, But There Must Be a Way For Artists to Get Paid"

October 1, 2008 1:09 PM ET

Ani DiFranco may have a reputation as a confrontational folk firebrand, but for all its sociopolitical savvy, her new album, Red Letter Year, is also fueled by domestic bliss. The Buffalo-born troubadour makes her home in New Orleans these days, where she recorded the album with her "co-producer/babydaddy" Mike Napolitano. "He's the reason the album sounds so good," she surmises. "I would plug in the guitar and say, 'Let's go!' and he would say, 'No, let's get a better guitar sound!' I just don't have enough focus to attend to details like that."

Her attention's been all the more divided since the arrival of daughter Petah last year. "It took me a lot longer to make [this album] than usual, because I had to take care of a kid," she says. "Which is great, it makes for better records. Conversely, she gives me a lot of new things to think about, and teaches me stuff I wouldn't have found out otherwise, so in that sense she's inspirational." DiFranco feels that the family vibe permeates Red Letter Year. "I think there's a lot of the energy of the love that made her, my love for Mike, and the peace he's brought to my life."

The fiercely independent DiFranco, who launched her own label nearly 20 years ago to distribute her music, isn't particularly concerned about putting out new work in the current economic climate. "Because of my independence I had to build my audience based on live shows, as opposed to the marketing muscle of a major label. Touring is once again my bread and butter, and at least I still have a job," she says. But DiFranco feels a balance must be struck in the digital music community. "Music sharing is essential to a degree, but there must be a way for artists to own their work and get paid for it. I don't think artists have to have a stranglehold on controlling their work, but I think they need to have a healthy control so they can survive."

Related Stories:
Ani DiFranco Plays E-Town Show in Denver During DNC
Folk Legend Utah Phillips Dies
Ani DiFranco Salutes New Orleans

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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