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Radiohead-Blazing A New Digital Trail

With the British art-rock band Radiohead releasing their new album entitled “In Rainbows” as a digital download and sold it for whatever their fans volunteered to pay, is this going to become a new trend in the methods that bands supply their music to the public? With CD shipments to retailers down 13% from last year, this innovative way to eliminate the middle man, the record label, has proved exactly where the music industry is headed. But there is a catch, the release is only available via the web site (InRainbows.com) and cannot be purchased in retail stores. The band will also offer fans a deluxe-edition box set that includes vinyl and CD copies of the release, plus a CD of bonus tracks and a lyric book on December 3. Will this technique catch on? One can only guess, but given the restraints that some record companies have on their artists, early reports suggest that most consumers are actually paying for the release. This release may have made the band more money than previous releases by eliminating the “manufacturing” costs of a CD, including promotion, marketing, distribution and the record label’s cut.

An interesting element to this is that the release is getting more “word of mouth” promotion and publicity than most albums. People are intrigued and are talking about it and large web sites (mostly corporate) are not discussing it mainly because the record company (or lack thereof) is not asking them that they do so. Now is this a one-time phenomenon or is Radiohead blazing a new musical distribution trail? It could be a bit of both, really. This release is a record label’s nightmare, a band can actually release it’s own material without jumping through the proverbial “corporate” hoops and record label red tape, and actually make money in the process. It also shows an impending trend, where music can be released without the aid of the “hard media” like CDs or vinyl records.

There are predictions that in the coming years a lot of bands and artists will follow this lead and may offer album downloads as a market tool to promote their tours as well as sell other merchandise. In fact, Trent Reznor, of the hard-rock band Nine Inch Nails has stated that they do not have a recording contract with their record label and may follow a similar path of not having a record label to support their next release. Other artists such as Madonna have already followed suit. So this may be the direction music is heading. Bands have also taken note of the “singles” market, where a consumer can pay for just one or two downloads, and the artist will not necessarily have to have an album release to support the singles. Yes, the digital download is here to stay, much to the chagrin of the record labels as well as vinyl enthusiasts. There is a whole new digital world out there for musicians and one they are running to grab by the horns.


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