to read the rest of the paper, including other a&e articles i write each week, go to www.fortcollinsnow.com
this is my column on radiohead's new album 'in rainbows' from the paper coming out tomorrow.
CARPE DIEM 10.13.07
The headlines this week were awash with a pair of unrelated stories that, when taken together, nicely illustrate where the music business is going and where it’s been, a perfectly-crystallized moment in time in which we can see the bold future colliding with the craven past.
First the future: Radiohead, already one of the most musically innovative and forward-thinking bands to emerge in a long time, has applied that creativity to the methods by which they are getting their music out to people. The band, no longer under contract, has announced that it is offering its new album In Rainbows for sale in MP3 format for whatever price people choose to pay. Fans are directed to a website where they can enter an amount in British pounds, plus a 45p credit card handling fee. Beginning October 10 buyers were emailed an access code allowing them to download the record. Even amid fears of the band’s website crashing, or other cyber-snafus hindering the plan, I received my unique code Wednesday morning, (I paid around $10; the money is going to the artists after all, not the suits) and downloaded the zip file with no hassles. Minutes later, I was listening to the album at a reasonable bitrate of 160kbps. For comparison, Apple offers its iTunes at 128kbps.
The band is also offering an actual disc for sale, due to come out in a couple of months, along with a deluxe box set including the disc, two vinyl albums, artwork and extra tracks. The web has been buzzing with discussion of the move, and while the band’s management won’t say how much people are choosing to pay for the digital version of the record, they are pleased with the response, and have said that more people are paying than not.
The entire experiment can rightly be viewed as a warning shot aimed squarely at record companies, not only in terms of the “pay-what-you-will” scheme, but also because the MP3 tracks for In Rainbows were released without what the industry calls digital rights management, programming restrictions which variously prevents users from copying music to another device or platform, or listening to it on certain MP3 players.
Of course, having sold upwards of 20 million records, Radiohead is in a position to reach millions of fans without the publicity machine of an established record company, something most up-and-coming bands can’t easily do. But by taking the record companies biggest fear—that a digital version of an album will be leaked prior to release of the hard copy—and brazenly promoting it, the band has managed to turn established industry “principles” on their head. And, according to what many fans are writing on blogs around the world, owning a digital copy of the record now isn’t going to stop them from buying a hard copy in a couple of months, thus discrediting another canard the record companies like to throw out.
Now for the past of the music industry: the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group representing companies that control about 90 percent of record sales in this country recently won a lawsuit against a Minnesota woman who was found by a jury to have illegally made 1700 music file available for download.
Read that again: she wasn’t found guilty of downloading songs; she had 1700 songs on her computer that were made available to peer-to-peer file-sharers. For each of the 24 songs the RIAA focused on, the woman was ordered to pay over $9,000 in damages. The single mom with an annual income of $36,000 plans to appeal.
Casting themselves squarely in the bogeyman role, the record companies’ hatchet men have once again demonstrated that hunting for mosquitoes with dynamite can indeed be effective, but has the potential for bit of blowback. Desperate to retain the control over music that they enjoyed for decades—and not incidentally, the freedom to pick the pockets of consumers and artists alike—the RIAA has done nothing but hasten their own demise.
To order a digital copy of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, go to www.inrainbows.com .