Friday, February 18, 2011
Radiohead just made a million bucks
Let's face it, the boys in Radiohead are smarter and more talented than you and me. Just accept the fact and move on (I might be prettier than the bass player though but even that's debatable). In the middle of the night (Australian time), Radiohead released their 8th album with minimal promotion. No doubt they made a million bucks while I was sleeping. While everyone in the music industry is scratching their heads about how to deal with this damned internet contraption, Radiohead have smoothly dealt with the transition in technology with minimal fuss.
I won't go into the In Rainbows 'pay-what-you-want' thing here. Everyone knows about it, talked about it and then were surprised that an album they got for free was so good (although, I admit I paid £5 for it). What we didn't realise was that Radiohead were conditioning us for the release of the next album where they insist we pay for it. And you know what? I bet a lot of people did.
The reason I think this is because the current generation of popular culture fans want their music and films instantly. I used to make some lame joke about how everyone's favourite food must be toast because everyone's so impatient they want their food now! Toast is probably too slow these days and everyone just eats the bread without bothering to toast it anymore (if they're not eating raw grains). This is how music feels these days - if I want it, I should be able to download it instantly. Any conventional music release is going to be leaked online before it hits the stores - record companies can't control this. Most albums leak a few weeks before the release date where rabid fans download it and then 'forget' to buy the official product. To be fair, a lot of people probably buy the album too even if they've downloaded it but I'm sure there's a whole generation of tech savvy five year olds who think music was always free.
What Radiohead have cleverly done is stage managed the inevitable leak in that if you want it first you have to get it from them (rather than the Pirate Bay) and you have to pay for it. I'm sure as the album went live, a large number of people were too impatient for the inevitable torrent and paid for it. Conversely, I'm sure another bunch of people checked the page and went "£6? OK Radiohead, just because I like you."* I think by directly embracing the concept that music is released digitally first Radiohead is reaping the rewards of the modern music buying public.
When I told my girlfriend this morning that Radiohead had released a new album over night, her first reaction was, "where is the build up?" But in internet terms, a couple of days notice is a huge build up to a major release like this. I'm sure all the bean counters in the Radiohead camp are sitting there watching waves of money roll in and everyone is very happy (except EMI who supported and built the Radiohead brand until they were big enough to jump ship). The need for million dollar advertising campaigns are a thing of the past for bands like Radiohead when stupid music bloggers like me do the work for them (where's my percentage?).
Essentially, Radiohead have responded to how listeners consume their music and have tailored their releases to suit these patterns. It's not rocket science unless you work for a major record company. That being said, releases like this would only really work for bands with a following the size of Radiohead. I'm sure if I had a crappy no-name punk band, a tactic like this wouldn't work but those bands make money from touring rather than record sales anyway so is that even an issue?
And the album itself? It sounds like Thom has gone back to his Neu and Can albums again - all glitchy stuff with some nice bass lines. Being a Kid A fan, it sounds good to me but so far the highlight is Codex, a piano based ballad (a song type Radiohead have mastered and seemingly perfected). Question is: are you going to buy it?
* Radiohead were always reticent to release details of how much money they made from the In Rainbows experiment. I guess by selling the digital copy for £6 gives us some insight into the median price most people were willing to pay. My guess would be £5 and they've added an extra quid for some cream. Good work boys.