That Radiohead thing

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Radiohead - In RainbowsAs everyone should know by now (even if you don’t know who they are) Radiohead have decided to sell their latest album in a very sensible, sorry, weird and wacky bring-down-the-music-business way. You will be able to purchase the album as a download or mega-bucks big beautiful collector/fanboy box set (with regular CD release reported for early next year). The biggest hoo-ha, though, is due to the ‘revolutionary’ payment structure for the download; simply pay them what you think it’s worth.

No, I’m not going to resort to cheap jokes here, but will state the fact that I really do rate the band as the hugest pair of the emperor’s new bloomers of the last two decades. They’re like the Stephen Fry (the nonthinking-persons’ thinking-person®) of popular music. They’re the window onto the avant garde for people that don’t really like music. The ‘commodore’ brigade. A simple way to self-actualisation without really having to think about it. Of course, believing there’s some thing more than the superficial is the magic of any music really.

Erm, so I’m not (*ahem*) going to take an easy swipe. But, nevertheless it is important to understand that even if there was a free download available of the album I probably wouldn’t expend the finger energy (never mind listening time) to click on over and check it out. So, the value to myself is probably less than £0.00 (don’t even get me started on the number of times she made me listen to The Bends and Pablo Honey and the emotional trauma that I should be suing for). So, let us imagine that I might, just might, following this explosion of webtastic PR be interested in checking out the new album – even just inflating the figures for downloads to help them thumb their nose at the disintegrating record industry structure. However, there is a £0.45 processing charge for the credit card transaction. Is this waived on a zero transaction? Can I go into negative values, as it’s getting nearer to what I’d want to pay. If I genuinely meant that they would have to pay me a thousand quid to even listen to the thing can I stick -£1000 in the payment box?

So, I wouldn’t even drag myself to the corner shop for a free brand new Prince album (let’s ignore the ethical dilemma of buying the Mail On Sunday this would have involved). And, I have no real interest in this release other than the distribution/sales method, which I applaud. It will be an interesting experiment on the ‘value’ of music. I hope their site has a running average going on it. Unfortunately, unlike Alan McGee I don’t really believe that this (or him releasing the Charlatans album for free) is going to bring down the music industry. But, perhaps it’ll get them thinking*.

Yeah well, that’s all well and good once you’ve actually made your millions and established a fanbase…

A generic version of many comments I’ve seen since this news broke. And, more depressing than a million tales of the RIAA running themselves into brick walls in the belief that this time we can walk through it. Back in the day, bands would tour to promote records. On those tours, money was made by selling t-shirts etc. These days the balance has shifted. I recently heard a fairly major recording artist (I’m not being mysterious I genuinely can’t remember who, but keep thinking it was either George Michael or Elton John – so quite ‘major’) who openly admitted that record sales were nothing these days, it’s the gigs where the money’s at.

One of my favourites The Supersuckers have adopted a great model. Screwed royally by labels, they put out their in records. Now, just shoving out an ep as soon as they have enough songs together (although, it”s been a while guys). Their clothing etc range is fantastic. They have a subscription fan club that receive exclusive music. And, they tour constantly (again, not enough over here). And, they’ll always meet & greet after the gig. They might not be putting in the guitar shaped pools yet, but they seem to get by without having to work down the lumbermill.

Unfortunately, for many bands ‘starting out’ this is not good enough to aim for. I once went to see Chuck D give a talk on the role of technology and the internet in music production and distribution. He talked for ages, describing a model where music is given away. Where you use the communication to build a following. Where these people then want to hear more of your music, will come see you live, buy your merchandise. When he opened the floor, there was a succession of blokes who all looked like Moby telling him that was all when and good when your standing where he is. You could see the “what have theses mudda’s been listening to for the last two hours” writ clear across his face.

So, look to Bucks Fizz, David Van Day and their dreadful tale behind the music of kebab vans and gross stupidity. And, then look to someone like Stephen Pastel (of whom I am really not a fan). At biggest, a cult artiste. Still going over twenty years later. Enough of a following to be able to play all over the world. Still sellls records. Gets to soundtrack films, show. Get’s to run his own label. HAS to run a record shop (ok, the coolest one in town). OK, the technology thing is irrelevant here. But, what I mean is, nice though it would’ve been, he didn’t sit about waiting for EMI to sweep him up. He just got on with it, and gets to still do it.

*OK, highly unlikely.


Written by Tony Kiernan

03 October 2007 at 2:19 pm

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