Take Note, Apple: Trent Reznor Knows How to Distribute Music

by Tanner Godarzi Mar 10, 2008

Trent Reznor, frontman of Nine Inch Nails, has been an outspoken critic of digital rights management and the record industry’s sleazy tactics. Their recently released album has made waves in how music is released and builds upon Radiohead’s previous idea of selling music to the masses without the hassle of a label. Trent Reznor and co. took a big step further and should have the record industry, as well as Steve Jobs, taking note.

While tastes in music vary, it’s hard not to appreciate what’s being done in the music space by bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails prying themselves away from labels. As you know, a lot of noise was made when In Rainbows, Radiohead’s latest album, was made available online for immediate download and the price could be picked by the consumer based on how good they thought it was. Even though it was baby steps into a new world of distributing music, there were some flaws. In order to give a fair amount going by the mantra of pay what you think it’s worth, you’d have to listen to the album first. But then again, that was easy; you could pay nothing for it and keep it legally, which led to the decision of why should I pay? Well, if you appreciate their work you probably paid, but if you’re just getting into their music you probably didn’t.

Months later the same method was used with hip hop artist Saul Williams where the album could be bought for $5 or downloaded for free. Either way you got a very high bit rate album, and while the statistics were good for a new album release considering the lack of a real promotion campaign outside of Saul Williams/NIN fans, it lacked the means for consumers to further support the artist more than spending $5.

This is why Nine Inch Nail’s latest album, Ghosts I-IV, is another revolutionary step in music distribution. Trent Reznor appeals to every kind of fan and those curious from the recent media attention. There is no way to pirate this item; faced with the inevitability of listeners stealing it, the entire album has been uploaded to The Piratebay. In addition, the first 9 tracks are available for free to sample before you take the plunge and have been uploaded to Piratebay as well. For those looking to purchase the album, it will run you $5 for a digital download in any format you wish, including FLAC, Apple Lossless, and MP3. Of course you can purchase a CD as well, alongside a deluxe $75 and now sold out $300 limited edition package.

What’s being put into place is a model that goes beyond relying on a central platform, with more control put into the hands of the artists, who in this case can ship physical media bundled with a digital download. Bypassing the label results in a much lower price for the consumer since only a fraction of an album’s profit goes to the artists themselves. This gives them the opportunity to play around with the price more while retaining a low cost that consumers will be attracted to. Lastly, one component that no marketing team can replicate: you shame yourself into buying it. Mind you, not everyone will, which is fine by Reznor’s standards, but when faced with supporting the artist at a much lower cost and directly as well as for a great album, most will. Even if that doesn’t work, Trent Reznor can build up a bigger fan base and even if one person can spread the word, it means that many more people will listen to the band.

Take note, Apple and all labels: consumers won’t want to pirate when given an opportunity to get what they want, how they want, at a price that suits them.


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