Saturday, June 6, 2009

In Which a Previous Post Comes to Fruition (sorta.)

This post, to be exact.

On October 1st, 2007, I was sitting at my desk in my dorm room, procrastinating on the Internet, when I came across the news that a new Radiohead album coming out.

I immediately fell out of my chair.

Then, when I finally composed myself enough to read the second half of the sentence, I found out that it would be out in ten days. I think I blacked out.

But most importantly, I finally got to the end of the announcement, and came to the most bizarre part: that fans would be able to pay whatever they wanted for the download of the album. My head promptly exploded.

I thought that this was one of the coolest things I had heard in a while. At the time, I wasn't thinking about the lasting repercussions of what would eventually become known as "the Radiohead model," I just wondered if anyone was actually going to put down money for it. Of course, it did: over a million people ordered the album by the time it had come out, and while not everyone paid, a good amount of people bought the $81 discbox. In addition, when the band finally released the album on CD, it went to #1 on the Billboard chart. Within the next year, other artists started releasing their music this way as well, most notably Girl Talk and Nine Inch Nails, and though nobody had the same success as Radiohead, sales were generally pretty good. Everybody wins, right?

Apparently not. Robert Smith, the frontman of The Cure, came out earlier this year against it, with this to say:

"The Radiohead experiment of paying what you want - I disagreed violently with that. You can't allow other people to put a price on what you do, otherwise you don't consider what you do to have any value at all and that's nonsense. If I put a value on my music and no one's prepared to pay that, then more fool me, but the idea that the value is created by the consumer is an idiot plan, it can't work."

Here's the thing: it... kind of did work. In fact, having your album reach #1 in sales in multiple countries months AFTER giving it away for free... I'd argue that it really couldn't have worked much better. I see what he's saying, and to an extent, I agree with him: overall, people should probably not be deciding what they should pay for all music. But, well, this worked. Smith responded with this (a little bitterly, if you ask me):

"In the way of our bright and brave new wired world, these idiot critics have tried very hard to turn my general point - a point I made using Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows: pay what you want’ marketing ruse as it is the most widely known example - into a mock shockhorror: 'how dare anyone question the famously independent and anti-capitalist Radiohead, they sell more ‘product’ than The Cure so their strategy obviously ‘worked’ (huh?!!)…and anyway, Robert Smith is way too old to comment on contemporary culture moment…'
Any famous artist with a huge and devoted fan base (often arrived at with a little help from a wealthy and powerful ‘patron’ or two?) can afford to do what he, she, or it wants…"

At any rate, just recently, in a piece in The Guardian about Sonic Youth's new album, there was this:

"The band could, of course, have put out the album themselves, but chose not to because, as [Kim] Gordon says, 'there's a whole machinery you have to build up.' Radiohead did it, though, with In Rainbows, initially released online for whatever fans wanted to pay.

'I don't really think they did it by themselves,' Gordon counters. 'They did a marketing ploy by themselves and then got someone else to put it out. It seemed really community-oriented, but it wasn't catered towards their musician brothers and sisters, who don't sell as many records as them. It makes everyone else look bad for not offering their music for whatever. It was a good marketing ploy and I wish I'd thought of it! But we're not in that position either. We might not have been able to put out a record for another couple of years if we'd done it ourselves: it's a lot of work. And it takes away from the actual making music.'

This, I disagree with a bit. Regardless of who was responsible for the idea to self-release the album, whether the promotion took away from the music is kind of unproven. Even though there was a good amount of media coverage, it's not as if the music suffered as a result: In Rainbows and Feed the Animals are both good, regardless of how they were brought into the world (Ghosts I-IV and The Slip, the Nine Inch Nails albums, are both pretty hit-or-miss, but it's been that way since 1994 with them anyway).

I really don't think Gordon gave us, the people who buy music, enough credit. If anything, the idea brings the music to people who hadn't heard it before and were unwilling to pay because, let's be real, who wants to shell out $10 or more for an album they know nothing about? If people like what a band is doing enough, they'll shell out money to support them or see them one way or another. It probably bolstered sales for Radiohead (In Rainbows sold more before its physical release than Hail to the Thief made overall.) In my case, I paid $10 for the Radiohead CD, then paid to see them in concert; I didn't pay for Feed the Animals, but still bought tickets to a Girl Talk show.

But, I could just be more into Radiohead than I am into Sonic Youth.

On that, I'm out. But before I go, I'm trying to figure out what I should do the weekend of July 31st. Is it more worth it to go to the Newport Folk Festival or All Points West? APW has the better lineup, but, well, Newport is probably less than half the cost, even including getting to Rhode Island. Here are the lineups:


SATURDAY, AUGUST 1 ~ 11:30 am - 7:00 pm

Pete Seeger, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Gillian Welch, The Avett Brothers, Billy Bragg, Iron & Wine, Mavis Staples, Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Ben Kweller, The Low Anthem, Brett Dennen, Tift Merritt, Tao Rodriguez Seeger, Langhorne Slim

SUNDAY, AUGUST 2 ~ 11:30 am - 7:00 pm

Pete Seeger with Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Neko Case, The Campbell Brothers, Josh Ritter, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Tim Eriksen & Shape Note Singers, Del McCoury, Guy Clark, David Rawlings Machine, Deer Tick, Balfa Toujours, Dala Girls, Joe Pug




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