Monday, October 08, 2007

Radiohead's "Bold Moves" Irrelevant at Best, Screw Over Working Musicians and Devalue Creative Capital at Worst

Sorry to those who caught the test publish of my first draft (read: profanity-laden rant) about the new Radiohead album early Sunday morning. For those who don't know, Radiohead is self-releasing their next album as a pay-what-you-want digital download, or an $80 collector's box. As it turns out, Trent Reznor also made the leap from major label to free agent as of today (like we couldn't see that one coming a mile away...)

Here are some things we know:
1) Major labels are evil. (Four companies account for more than 80% of worldwide music sales. We guesstimate that those 80% of sales accounts for less than 1% of the people out there seriously making music.)
2) Recorded music on any physical format is pretty much dead format, and has been since 2003.
3) When was the last time radio had any relevancy? (The correct answer is "Liz Copleand's last broadcast on WDET.")
4) The music industry is being democracized and radically redefined as we speak.
5) Major labels will do anything to stop this - but in the end they may as well be making pagers and typewriters.

Here's what I like about the precedence being set:
Direct relationships between artists and consumers. This is good (although it overlooks the importance of the curatorial and nurturing aspects record labels can offer fans and artists alike.)

Here's what I don't like:
The free/"pay what you want" part.

Here's why:
Radiohead doesn't need the money. Nine Inch Nails doesn't need the money. Prince (who gave away his new LP first) doesn't need the money. All of these acts worked their way to [deserved] stardom and wealth through the old system and are now in a position to do basically anything they want. They have an opportunity to do great things. They have a responsibility to lead the way for those scraping by to make an honest living from their art. Prince can give away his CD and then sell out a record 21 live shows in London. Good for Prince. Good way to stick it to the majors. Is it good for independent musicians or good for small labels taking risks for more noble reasons than simply the dollar? I don't see it. This model only works for mega-stars. They can sell out shows and sell tons of merch, but giving away the creative capital of music - which is what all of this should be about - sets a bad precedence. It devalues the creative capital. It devalues the life work of passionate, talented, hard-working artists. There has to be a better way to redefine the way the industry works. We apparently can't look to out-of-touch rock stars for guidance. All the innovative marketing and seemingly noble politics aside, the motives strike me as selfish - whether they are conscious of this or not. With the democratization of music, they may soon find themselves just as irrelevant as major labels or pop radio.

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