was going to survey all of the good lovin’ I’ve gotten in
my life, and discuss which times may have been worth $5500,
and why I think so, based on both objective and subjective
criteria, if indeed I had to pay for it.
But I decided to talk about Trent Reznor instead.
A few months ago, Radiohead shook the music biz to its core
by putting its new album, In Rainbows, up on
the Web for download. For a band of Radiohead’s stature, this
was revolutionary for a number of reasons. For one, the band
was going it alone, without the benefit of label backing.
Even more remarkable, the band put the album up for download
with a voluntary payment.
The band still hasn’t released figures for what happened,
although as of now, the band’s download page is disabled and
the album is available for sale as a CD and as DRM-free downloads
from all the usual online stores. The band has admitted that
the voluntary-payment scheme, which offered only middling-sounding
160bps files, was really a promotional device to sell music
the traditional way.
It would be fascinating to know what happened; there have
been unsubstantiated estimates that over one million albums
were downloaded, and roughly two-thirds of the people grabbed
the music for free, but that the band nonetheless made more
money that they would have had they been selling through a
standard record-company deal. One interesting phenomenon was
the fact that even though In Rainbows was readily available
for free on the band’s Web site, “pirated” versions were was
also tearing up the P2P and BitTorrent sites. Go figure.
While Radiohead’s experience may have been a tentative toe
in the water, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails went all-in
on the NIN Web site last week with a comprehensive roll-out
of a sprawling new instrumental work titled Ghosts I-IV.
The offering is a brilliant example of post-label consumer-oriented
music delivery. The first nine tracks are offered for
free, as high-quality 320bps MP3s, along with a stunning 40
page pdf program with liner notes. For $5, you can download
the entire work—all 36 tracks—with the program and a pile
of digital “extras” like wallpaper and other images. These
downloads are available in an array of high-quality format
choices, including CD-quality lossless formats. For $10, you
get all the digital stuff, plus a two-CD set with all of the
tracks. For $75, you get all this in deluxe packaging, along
with all of the session tracks on a DVD in multi-track format,
for the buyer to use in remixing the tracks, along with a
Blu-Ray disk with the tracks in super HD stereo along with
a HD slideshow. Finally, there’s a limited- edition $350 set,
which includes everything already mentioned, plus the tracks
on four high-quality vinyl disks and a set of Giclee prints
of some of the program photographs.
The tracks are released under a Creative Commons license,
which means it’s OK with Reznor if the tracks are traded,
distributed, or remixed in non-commercial settings. To underscore
the point, Reznor seeded the major BitTorrent networks with
the tracks at the same time they were offered for sale on
the NIN Web site. So anyone who wants to can go get the whole
shebang for free from any of the so-called “pirate sites”
on the Web.
Now, traditional thinking, major-label thinking, would be
that Reznor is nuts. He’s giving it all away at the same time
he’s trying to sell it. But consider this—the 2500 editions
of the $350 set sold out the first night. So, we know
Reznor pulled in $875,000 from the top-shelf offering alone.
Traffic was so intense that night that it slowed to a crawl,
and for a while the NIN site was sending people to the Torrent
sites as an alternative place to grab the tracks. There haven’t
been any other figures released about sales and downloads
(although I’d expect Reznor to release them eventually) so
I can only relate my own experience.
I’m not a Nine Inch Nails fan; I wouldn’t know a NIN song
if it bit me on the heinie. But after reading the media hoopla
of this release, and being aware of Reznor’s anti-label advocacy
over the years, I figured I’d check it out. The NIN site is
beautiful, and getting the initial nine free tracks was seamless
and satisfying, sort of like the Apple consumer experience—it’s
fun, sophisticated, and doesn’t insult my intelligence.
The tracks surprised me; mostly darkly ambient instrumental
tracks, featuring airy piano, guitar treatments (from Adrian
Belew), and hypnotic, non-face-melting percussion. After listening
to the free tracks three times, I decided I had to have the
rest, and I went back and bought them for the grand sum of
$5. I could have gone to a Torrent site and gotten them, entirely
legally, for free. But I didn’t want to bother with that,
and more importantly, I wanted Trent Reznor to have my $5
for making my world a little bit better with his music. Call
me crazy, but I think this is the way it’s supposed to work.
Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany
and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law
at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the
Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop. Contact info can
be found at www.paul rapp.com. Comments about this article
can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.