Saturday, October 13, 2007

The History of Music One-Week ARIR (After Radiohead’s In Rainbows)

I love a backlash, so as soon as I heard Radiohead’s choose-your-own price gambit for the digital download of their new album In Rainbows, I said, “Wow, they’ve entirely created a new model of distribution for millionaire rock bands.”

It was my way of being dismissive about their breakthrough move. Insouciantly, I IMed my friends: What does this do for the all the amazing bands that can’t get heard or earn a living because no one buys records?

The truth is that the life of an unknown band has become easier every minute since MTV broke the stranglehold radio had on music in the early ‘80s. And what Radiohead has done has not only set the precedent for what millionaire rock bands should be doing but also for what every content provider on this planet should be doing.

Now that the real backlash about In Rainbows has come (and I think gone), we should actually quantify what Radiohead has figured out.

The truth is that every piece of content (of some acceptable quality) should come in (at least) three flavors:

1. FREE- Low quality
2. MOVIE TICKET PRICE- High quality download
3. LIVE THEATER PRICE- Special collectors edition

I’d add for music and movies and books you’d also want another tier between 2 and 3 for 2b. MOVIE THEATER PLUS LARGE POPCORN PRICE- Simple jewel-case/paperback edition.

The only thing I think Radiohead could have done better was by offering 2 and 2b. Oh well, they still did have done the best job of changing the music industry since Shawn Fanning. The funny thing is that the music industry could have done this before Shawn Fanning liberated the playlist from the stranglehold of actually paying for music. Why did it take so long?. Seth Godin blames mediocrity which is hard to argue with. I think denial played a part too.

No matter what people want to pretend, people grew up thinking was music was free before Napster. It was called radio. And that's what the free version should be called "The Radio Version." If you want better, it's there. The quality they are offering is SUPERIOR to any radio station feed and, again, it is free. Also, CDs and their antecedents have been free to reviewers and tastemakers. Who isn't a reviewer or a tastemaker now?

Aimee Mann has said she was surprised more major artists haven’t taken to selling their own music directly. She started her own label back in the 20th century and makes a decent living selling her music primarily through her website.

Radiohead was the perfect band to answer Mann’s challenge.

We needed a band that transcends culture to really show us the way. Once marginalized over numerous instant messages as the “Nirvana of Britpop," (I love saying decisive things that anger people who are too nuanced by facts) this new album isn’t just a marketing leap forward into the future, a new time I call ARIR—After Radiohead’s In Rainbows, it’s amazing album that connects the rock of OK Computer with the roll of the band’s last three albums.

Thank you, Radiohead. And I’m sorry I only paid a penny. I just wanted to see if it would work!