Last week Radiohead started selling their new album In Rainbows exclusively from their Web site. Not only that, but you get to choose how much to put in the band’s coffer by deciding what you want to pay for the album. I don’t tend to buy CDs because my money isn’t going to the artists I would like to support. With this formula of self-distribution you know exactly where the money is going.
I personally think this is brilliant. My beef with the record industry has been how poorly they treat their artists. Artists don’t typically see much of a return from their CD sales, probably receiving less than $.05 a CD. That doesn’t seem like a good deal to me. The artist works hard to sell music, perform, write songs, and create an image, only to make money for a greedy company. And this greedy company tends to mold artists into models that were monetarily successful in the past (Backstreet Boys to N’Sync, Brittney Spears to Christina Aguilerra, Puddle of Mudd to Lighthouse, etc., etc.).
Many artists publicly stated their problems with their record labels. Prince wrote slave on his face and started releasing albums under the moniker “artist formerly known as Prince” because releasing albums as Prince would have violated his binding contract with Warner Bros. Other artists have filled their contract obligations with quickly produced CDs that were recognized by their fans as meeting their requirements (Rumor has the Daft Punk’s last CD, Human After All, followed shortly by their “Greatest Hits” were released just so they could pursue their own interests without label “guidance”).
Now that bands, such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails (and on a side note, NIN is amazing to see live. Their front man Trent Renzor has been a pioneer in digital copyright. He tends to release music tracks and samples to the public so they can remix them as they please [double-sided note: Beastie Boys have done this as well, all under the creative commons license] and is providing a digital format [mp3s] with his next CD), have split from their labels, many other will likely follow suit. I think this is great. They are both well-established groups that don’t need the promotion a label would provide. They will do just find on their own, they have the capital, respect and ability to self-release. Unfortunately, I’m unsure how this will work for smaller groups. Social media sites are a great way for bands to promote their stuff, but it is hard for them to gain the exposure that record label would provide. There are success stories with this format of distribution (see: Arctic Monkeys and Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah), and I’m sure their story will likely be repeated in the coming years.
You’ll also notice that these viral bands don’t sound like other things you would hear on the radio or MTV. They are in a different market that is not yet tapped. Flagging sales, especially in rap, indicate record companies are run by suits without a clue using payola to get their crap a wipe at our ears. Fortunately for us, the Internet gives equal exposure to all artists. Chances are you’ll find something you like if you spend a little time looking.
With Radiohead selling a reported 1.2 million copies through their Web site, we’re sure to see more sales of this type. Even if people only paid the minimum for the $1 distribution fee, that is at least $1.2 million going directly to the artist; a pretty successful figure for radically different sales approach.