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May 23, 2007 9:37 PM   Subscribe

"If I could do what I want right now, I would put out my next album ... you could download it from my site at as high a bit-rate as you want [and] pay $4 through PayPal." Former member of Cleveland's own Exotic Birds and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor flips his lid when he finds out his new album Year Zero is being sold in Australia for $34.99 ($29.10 US). Label responds: "It's because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out — you know, true fans." Then there's the RIAA accusing Reznor of intentionally leaking his own music. Album is available in its entirety on MySpace. The unique internet-based promotion of this album - what's being called an alternate reality game - has also generated quite a bit of buzz.
posted by phaedon (75 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, he says he owes one more release to his major label. It'll be interesting to see if, after he's out of that contractual obligation, he does indeed start making full releases available at high bit rate for 4 bucks. I sort of doubt it, but, more power to him if he does.

Not surprising that the Billboard article characterizes Reznor's comments as a "tirade" in the headline. That rag is so in the pocket of the majors...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:47 PM on May 23, 2007


He just needs to find some cool symbol to change his name to so they can't collect any more royalties on him. That's always worked really well for people in the past.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:48 PM on May 23, 2007


Maybe he can get a job with google.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:52 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Speaking as an Australian who likes music (and bucks the trend by paying for a lot of it), I can tell you that like with most things, the cost of an item will depend on where you shop. The up-market specialty music stores like Sanity or HMV will sell an album like Year Zero for over $30AUS, but Big W (a discount department store) sells it for just over $20.

But be it 10, 20 or 30 bucks, anything is too much to pay for the crap that is Year Zero. I like NiN, I really do, but Year Zero just didn't do it for me. Sorry.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:04 PM on May 23, 2007


"It's because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out — you know, true fans."

The fact that the label wants to play things like this is a major reason why the industry is fucked.

Sure, there are still "true fans" out there - my sister buys every U2 release - even those shitty "Best of" compilations, when she already owns every song and B-side that's on the "Best of" album.

But the majority of music fans these days are way too used to just being able to sample a little bit of stuff from everywhere. They're not waiting anxiously, counting the days until the next NIN album comes out, putting it on pre-order. They don't care that much. They just want to have it on their harddrives to give it a listen if they feel like it...maybe. Add it to shuffle. Disposable music. And there's nothing wrong with that.

The labels are still trying to push the line that "You're paying a premium for Art" - the public would rather get their hands on as much music as possible at a cheap rate, knowing full well that they might only listen to a lot of it once. I can guarantee that if I could download songs legally for, say, 20c a song, a lot more of my disposable income would be in the hands of musicians than under the marketing plan the labels are still grasping on to.

In fact, with services like Amie Street, it's entirely possible to get your music collection together this way.

Oh, and the people who are waiting desperately for the latest NIN album to come out? They've probably already score a leaked copy on BitTorrent.
posted by Jimbob at 10:05 PM on May 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's about time for somebody to make that music that blends and mixes and soars and grinds and crosses over everything and everywhere, and if that person doesn't take the record deal this crap could be over in a year.

First it was record your own music, then produce your own recordings, then form your own label, and soon.... eviscerate your industry's existing economic model?

That would be a cool retaliation for years of abuse of artists.
posted by dglynn at 10:09 PM on May 23, 2007


uh, paging Howard Roark?
posted by b1tr0t at 10:11 PM on May 23, 2007


$29 = AU price = ridiculous, $18 = US price = just fine?
posted by smackfu at 10:12 PM on May 23, 2007


"It's because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out — you know, true fans."

What's most offensive about this is not the concept of music as ART, which it undoubtedly is. What's offensive is the idea of taking fans for a ride just, you know, because we can.

I will pay good money for a vinyl copy, or a deluxe edition of an album I already own. And I'll gladly pay for music -- that doesn't bother me a bit. What bothers me is that 95 percent of that money goes to the label rather than to the band. The real problem is that the label treats music as art but doesn't treat musicians as artists.
posted by brina at 10:12 PM on May 23, 2007 [7 favorites]


I can guarantee that if I could download songs legally for, say, 20c a song, a lot more of my disposable income would be in the hands of musicians than under the marketing plan the labels are still grasping on to.

Who wouldn't? But the problem seems to be that bands like NIN keep signing contracts with those big, bad record labels. Nothing is stopping NIN from putting up all their music on a website for download with a paypal button alongside. Nothing except their own greed and aversion to risk. Reznor's "tirade" should be focused where it belongs - not against the company that (probably) paid him a big advance - but on himself for selling out to them in the first place.
posted by three blind mice at 10:13 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what the problem with that "core audience" quote is from a business standpoint. If the demand isn't very price-elastic, aren't you supposed to raise your prices until you maximize revenue? I'm not sure why the publisher wouldn't keep raising prices until 'fans' stopped buying.
posted by Firas at 10:17 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reznor's "tirade" should be focused where it belongs - not against the company that (probably) paid him a big advance - but on himself for selling out to them in the first place.

To be fair to Reznor, he seems to be saying he got himself locked into a multi-album contract, and when he gets out he plans on doing things himself.

I'm not sure why the publisher wouldn't keep raising prices until 'fans' stopped buying.

Because there are two different sorts of people who would possibly throw money at an album. True Fans who, as you suggest, would pay anything, and Casual Listeners who might hear one of the songs on the radio, and consider getting the album. The labels are taking a gamble, betting they can make more money selling to the True Fans than the Casual Listeners. But I tend to believe that True Fans are a dying breed, with most people tending towards being Casual Listeners who like a wide variety of music from a wide variety of bands, and aren't necessarily going to spend $35 on any single album.
posted by Jimbob at 10:23 PM on May 23, 2007


(I understand that the economics of retail music are way more complex and depends on how many people have the CD as a way to pave future revenue etc. and that there are leakages via p2p etc. I'm just saying that whatever the justification is for not raising prices too high can probably be captured in economic terms rather than just as abstract outrage.)
posted by Firas at 10:23 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jimbob: yeah I agree completely. I personally just pay like $15 a month to rhapsody.com and listen to all the music that ever strikes my fancy. Back I'm migrating back to p2p as I've began to run into DRM glitches.
posted by Firas at 10:25 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm just saying that whatever the justification is for not raising prices too high can probably be captured in economic terms rather than just as abstract outrage.

But Trent's probably got more of a knack for abstract outrage over, say, economic theory.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:27 PM on May 23, 2007


That price is reasonably standard for new CDs here. However, wait a few weeks & they usually drop to around AUD$25, which seems to be the price that the record companies & retailers seem to think the market can handle.

On that topic, brina just trotted out the accepted knowledge that 95% goes to the label. You hear this all the time, along with things like "a CD only costs 20c to make", but can anybody verify this? And are we talking revenue here, or profits? Because if the companies are acting like some kind of evil, price-fixing, supergreedy cabal, you would think that they would have been slapped down years ago by some sort of consumer-interest litigation.

In other matters, kudos to phaedon for the "bend over, sheila" line - that was from the very limited Australian-only release of a live Closer to God, which also includes the line "I wanna root you like a wallaby".
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:33 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nothing is stopping NIN from putting up all their music on a website for download with a paypal button alongside. Nothing except their own greed and aversion to risk.

Me fears production quality might be lessened if no one had studio backing for their recording sessions.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:35 PM on May 23, 2007


Me fears production quality might be lessened if no one had studio backing for their recording sessions.

I think, in the case of Reznor, he's got his own studio and does his own production. Although I admit that's the result of him being filthy stinking rich, and the option isn't available to most people.
posted by Jimbob at 10:40 PM on May 23, 2007


In other matters, kudos to phaedon for the "bend over, sheila" line - that was from the very limited Australian-only release of a live Closer to God, which also includes the line "I wanna root you like a wallaby".

Man, Australian UNIX slang is weird.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:41 PM on May 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


On the recording front, isn't there a lot of cheap and FOSS software for processing music? At that point it's just finding the right place to record, it would seem.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:42 PM on May 23, 2007


Um. The first thing I would do if I had eg. a Myspace following and didn't want to sign to major label is to form a corporation and let my nascent fanbase buy shares… although that can get very messy. How about just CD pre-sales to fanbase and production/rent etc. backed by an angel investor? The problem is that the VC model is based on 'flipping' to a larger corporation rather than on a small sustainable middle-class existence. Hm.
posted by Firas at 10:49 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, fuck Trent Reznor.

NiN were in Sydney the other week. I didn't even bother looking into tickets (I think they've been pretty much total shite since Pretty Hate Machine), but I wouldn't be surprised if they were priced at around $100, like most of the bigger international acts these days. On top of fucking his fans like animals financially, he fucked them doubly by cancelling one of the shows at the last second. None of this says much for his respect for his fans.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:50 PM on May 23, 2007


but can anybody verify this?

If you can handle visiting one of the dorkiest websites around, I highly recommend checking out Donald Passman's "All You Need to Know About the Music Business" as introductory reading.

The 5%-to-the-artist stat is verifiable, but tedious to verify, as it stems from a collection of deductions that music labels enact against the artist's share as a means of protecting their high-risk investment. The percentage comes out of overall revenue, which translates into profit for the artist only after the original advance paid to the artist by the label for that particular album is recouped (by the album's sales). Labels will often sign artists to multi-album contracts, paying them separate advances for separate albums, but "cross-collateralizing" the money owed, so that if one particular album sells well but the others fail, the artist will not profit off any one successful album until all the advances for all the albums are fully recouped. the days of lavish advances, of course, are over. the only recent exception i know of is linkin park, which got $15 million from warner.

on preview: at the risk of coming off as a reznor fanboy, i have to admit i had no idea that line was used in a live australian recording. i mean, wtf? i cannot be everywhere at once. i did, however, used to date a girl named sheila.
posted by phaedon at 10:52 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Picture this. All our leeching off Kazaa finally sends the labels broke - the industry goes under, there's no money to pay for signed artist's marketing and recording.

Musicians, lacking label backing, are forced to go low budget, recording their albums on an 8-track or on a PC in their basement. No longer able to purchase commerical radio airplay to market themselves, they're forced to rely on grass-roots support, with only the quality of their music to differentiate themselves from competing artists.

I can't really see that many negatives of this scenario, to be honest. But then, I like things lo-fi.
posted by Jimbob at 10:54 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Who's going to pool the risk in an optimal scenario? Will each band be its own business?
posted by Firas at 10:57 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


but can anybody verify this?

Also, I really wanted to mention the future of music website, which amazes me in part because of all the great, comprehensive information they have on label contract clauses.
posted by phaedon at 11:00 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jimbob: electronica has been using the basement, self-publishing model for years now. After all, you don't need a hell of a lot more than a computer or two. At the time that Nirvana appeared, a friend who's heavily involved in the scene referred to grunge as a Big Industry marketing hype aimed at stemming the tide of underground electronica - the new punk.

phaedon: don't wear yourself out looking for that recording - there's only one copy, and it's in my head. I actually got mixed up before - Bend Over Sheila was Trent's cover of The Smiths' Sheila Take a Bow.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:11 PM on May 23, 2007


Who's going to pool the risk in an optimal scenario? Will each band be its own business?

Well, why not? Painters don't have "Painting Labels" that pay for their canvas and oils and market their work to galleries, do they? If you're a good artist, or you're good at selling yourself, you might make money off your work. If you're crap, you won't make money. Go find another way to make a living.

Before music was able to be recorded, musicians were their own businesses, unless you were employed by an orchestra or something like that. The recording process, in the early days, required large financial backing - you couldn't cut a track to vinyl yourself. And you couldn't get it in every record shop in the country yourself. Things are now swinging back the other way - you can make your own CDs - you don't even need to if you sell your tracks online. You don't need to get your album in every record shop in the country - you can just put it up on a website with an appropriate online shopping interface. Backing isn't necessarily required for the studio recording process. Sure, it is if you're Metallica and you want to hang around some place for a year shooting the shit and sleeping in and occasionally spending 20 minutes laying down a drum track. But you can do it yourself, with excellent results.
posted by Jimbob at 11:16 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


At the time that Nirvana appeared, a friend who's heavily involved in the scene referred to grunge as a Big Industry marketing hype aimed at stemming the tide of underground electronica - the new punk.

Heh. Interesting to remember that at the time Nirvana appeared, their first album cost $600 to record, and it fucking rocks.
posted by Jimbob at 11:17 PM on May 23, 2007


I'm willing to send Mr. Reznor $30 US if he'll send me his new cd plus a couple of his older cd's plus a postcard. After working for a radio station and getting crap for free, it's hard to pay for anything now.

Really, it is. I want to make sure I'm getting a deal. The rest is just advertising fodder. No matter how much I like their music and/or product.
posted by robtf3 at 11:18 PM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Who wouldn't? But the problem seems to be that bands like NIN keep signing contracts with those big, bad record labels. Nothing is stopping NIN from putting up all their music on a website for download with a paypal button alongside.

Except the contract he signed with 'em years ago.

Me fears production quality might be lessened if no one had studio backing for their recording sessions.

Well, in his case I'm pretty sure he does his own production. But look at the stuff on mefi music, a lot of it is as good, in terms of recording as any CD.
posted by delmoi at 11:34 PM on May 23, 2007


For everybody who wants details about how little the artists end up with from a major label release there's always Steve Albini's The Problem With Music.
posted by thecjm at 11:37 PM on May 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Steve Albini produced "in Utero"? Well then here's Courtney Love doing the math.
posted by phaedon at 11:44 PM on May 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm completely sure how to fix the music industry too, but, uh, I forgot while I was eating a burrito.

You have to keep in mind that just because marketing and advertising has been taken out of the distribution model, good quality music will not necessarily reap the benefits. A lot of acts and their "massive grassroots fanbases" often confuse popularity with quality, just as record companies use sales
posted by setanor at 11:52 PM on May 23, 2007


Picture this. All our leeching off Kazaa finally sends the labels broke - the industry goes under, there's no money to pay for signed artist's marketing and recording.

This is the same picture, Uburoivas, that makes is highly unlikely bands will ever be able to make money by putting their own music out on the web. Only a pollyanna would believe that the same people who think it's OK to rip-off the record company will feel any different about ripping off the individual artist.

The problem is as much US as it is THEM.

I personally just pay like $15 a month to rhapsody.com and listen to all the music that ever strikes my fancy. Back I'm migrating back to p2p as I've began to run into DRM glitches.

As long as web users think it is OK to consume content without paying - there is little possibility for anyone being able to make a living. We don't ostracize Firas for "migrating back to P2P" - instead we think he's justified.

Until the web community develops a little bit of common decency - and stops ripping off artists - there won't be much future for alternative economic models.
posted by three blind mice at 11:55 PM on May 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


Until the web community develops a little bit of common decency

Mmm. And that's going to happen. I think a more realistic aim is for labels to stop ripping off artists - also a long shot, but more likely than an entire population of internet users developing copyright morals.
posted by Jimbob at 11:59 PM on May 23, 2007


As long as web users think it is OK to consume content without paying..

That's an interesting little sentence there, as well. I can't speak for other people, but I don't "consume content", I "listen to music".
posted by Jimbob at 12:02 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


but more likely than an entire population of internet users developing copyright morals

much more likely.

so why can't we just shut the hell up about it already. i hate all this digital rights evangelism, as if it was important what you do with your "disposable income"
posted by setanor at 12:02 AM on May 24, 2007


Am I the only one who got the impression that he's just trying to avoid getting dragged down in what he sees as the labels' inevitable demise?

To me, he comes off as someone whose primary concern is to ensure that people continue to pay him. It happens that he thinks the best way to do this is to keep his core fanbase happy, but it reads like a calculation.
posted by reventlov at 12:11 AM on May 24, 2007


What do the labels really have to offer?

A studio? The barriers to entry are dropping left and right, if they even exist anymore. It's possible to buy your own studio for less than it cost to record a single album ten years ago.

Distribution? It's free. It's so free that people do it for fun, and the labels have to lawyer up to stop them. Online music is here to stay, and physical media is going the way of land lines and VCRs. This completely cuts labels and their distribution networks out of the picture.

Marketing? Also free. A little thing called 'MySpace,' have you heard of it? Sure, I turn up my nose at MySpace when I'm feeling pretentious, but if it wasn't here there'd be some other crappy yet ubiquitous social network that would help you promote yourself. DIY marketing is the future, and it's already here.

I love threads like this one because it gives us a historical record, so people will be able to read this later and say, "Wow, remember when the labels still kinda mattered?"
posted by mullingitover at 12:12 AM on May 24, 2007



To me, he comes off as someone whose primary concern is to ensure that people continue to pay him. It happens that he thinks the best way to do this is to keep his core fanbase happy, but it reads like a calculation.


this is his job after all
posted by setanor at 12:29 AM on May 24, 2007


Only a pollyanna would believe that the same people who think it's OK to rip-off the record company will feel any different about ripping off the individual artist.

The problem is as much US as it is THEM.


Speak for yourself. I own an absolute fuckton of CDs, and would estimate that more than 95% are legitimate copies from stores. The remainder would have been burned, unasked, by friends who felt that I just had to have band X in my collection.

Personally, I feel that the "waah waah the record companies don't give the musos enough money" is little more than a cheap excuse used by music pirates to avoid moral responsibility for giving the artists *nothing*.

Anybody who's spent any time in the business world should know that there are all kinds of costs involved in running a business, and yet, to give an analogy, you don't hear too many people whining about how their home-delivery pizza only costs $1 to make but $20 to buy, which is why I find so much of the anti-label moralising to sound quite disingenuous.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:30 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


The point's not that the walls have been broken down. It's that you can't make long-term money developing new acts and selling their songs. So record labels don't do much of either anymore. So you've in effect broken down the walls to an empty room. The labels still in business have retreated to the publishing side of the equation, and make perfectly good money tying in their product with other forms of entertainment. publishing rights don't need to eat, they don't need advances and they don't need to tour. they just have to produce strong quarterly statements.

As for labels not mattering, I mean, you've got to be kidding. Never have fewer people owned more. The inevitability of capitalism at work. I opened up a copy of Billboard the other week and I saw a full-page advertisement that read, "SunTrust Bank would like to congratulate its 30 Grammy nominees." The game's totally changed, and no one inside the industry is complaining. The trick is to stay in the game, and stay relevant. That's hard. And Reznor, despite his artistic nobility, is not relevant in the same way he was ten years ago.

In my highly speculative opinion, labels are positioning themselves for the day there is one label that will rule them all. if perpetual copyrights become a reality, then we are all truly fucked. all that artists can do is to refuse doing business with the big three en masse, which is not going to happen anytime soon.
posted by phaedon at 12:34 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Personally, I feel that the "waah waah the record companies don't give the musos enough money" is little more than a cheap excuse used by music pirates to avoid moral responsibility for giving the artists *nothing*.

It has sometimes been used as an excuse for piracy, but more often it's given as a reason why artists need to be supported in getting their asses off the labels. All those documents linked above by Courtney Love and Steve Albini etc. - they aren't advocating piracy, they're advocating artists stand up for themselves.
posted by Jimbob at 12:57 AM on May 24, 2007


this is his job after all

Yes. I think I was just jarred by someone in the industry neither pretending to be my friend ("we're doing this all for our fans!") nor telling me that I am an evil, evil pirate who makes children cry.
posted by reventlov at 2:30 AM on May 24, 2007


...you don't hear too many people whining about how their home-delivery pizza only costs $1 to make but $20 to buy...

No, of course not. But what if the pizza was really really damn good pizza made by one of the best pizza makers living on earth today, and of the $20 you paid to him to make the pizza for you, he had to hand over $18 to his landlord who inexplicably charged him a per-pizza rate for his rent. And also his landlord was Hitler.

What then, eh?
posted by brain cloud at 3:39 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


What bothers me is that 95 percent of that money goes to the label rather than to the band. The real problem is that the label treats music as art but doesn't treat musicians as artists.

That is the problem. All the money these days is from concerts, not from the albums. The albums are just promotional material for the concerts.
posted by caddis at 5:04 AM on May 24, 2007


three blind mice, it's an interesting question. I'll agree that downloading mp3s doesn't concern me at all from a moral standpoint.

Personally, for me, the DRM glitches were intolerable.
  • It is not acceptable for me to switch to a song on the subway and have my music player tell me something along the lines of 'you need to sync your device with your PC' or whatever because the batteries had drained earlier so its system clock is off.
  • It's definitely not acceptable for some DRM issue to (rarely) cause my mp3 player to crash!!
  • It is not acceptable for a song I used to listen to suddenly become 'unavailable' without a la carte purchase for inexplicable reasons.
Not to mention that many of the digital music services don't have a painstakingly comprehensive catalog of the type you can get from typing an artist's name into bittorrent.

Also there are certain things I want to be able to do with music (eg. upload a certain live recording or a remix or an original track to my blog to share) that only mp3s allow. Again, uploading music to my site that people eventually find via multimedia search engines can 'leak' potential revenue but it's questionable how many of those people would have popped over to itunes or whatever were that not the case.

Personally I think I *might* buy a la carte music only if there was no DRM involved. Otherwise you've paid up to own something that's limited forever in where you can play it etc. That's just philosophically abhorrent to me. (Not to mention that pragmatically DRM systems change and companies implementing it may go under and so on.)

(Ah one might say, you could just buy CDs and rip them, but they're priced way too highly. If you buy 10 CDs to get an artist's whole oeuvre that's like $200! As your stereotypical broke college student that's rather beyond anything I'd consider, especially since my listening habits dictate that I'd be spending $1000s if my buying habits mirrored my listening ones (and my demand was absolutely inelastic, which is totally not the case.))

Also (Devil's advocate) like I said, I don't feel any moral compunctions here, but I'm willing to concede that I can't justify dl'ing mp3s from a moral standpoint because when it comes down to it, it's taking stuff someone provides without agreeing to their conditions. But here's a thought. If I do continue paying a subscription service I've effectively paid someone who's licensed songs such that I can listen to anything whenever right? As long as I'm paying at least one service that has such an agreement, how's my getting mp3s of that particular song then lost publisher revenue? Think about it!
posted by Firas at 5:32 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


So I think Jimbob's idea may be relevant here. That contemporary teens/20/30-somethings have "soak me in sound"-type listening habits that are completely different from the listening habits that the traditional retail model was developed to accomodate. (Eg. For me I'd rather pay for media as a utility than as discrete items. Thus rhapsody-type services.) The business model is lagging the revenue-maximizing model. (Also, the RIAA's theory by which every unpaid 'play' is thought of as lost revenue for which they come up with guns blazing is completely specific to the RIAA's mindset and is clearly not shared by the marketing depts. of the artists in question. Never let the legal tail wag the sales dog.)
posted by Firas at 5:38 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


What do the labels really have to offer?

They advance money to record an album.
posted by smackfu at 5:43 AM on May 24, 2007


yet, to give an analogy, you don't hear too many people whining about how their home-delivery pizza only costs $1 to make but $20 to buy, which is why I find so much of the anti-label moralising to sound quite disingenuous.

Oh come on. It's pretty obvious that the majority of the cost of a pizza is in the delivery, but it's not so obvious that the majority of the cost of a 99¢ iTunes download is to pay for anything other then corporate greed.
posted by delmoi at 5:52 AM on May 24, 2007


UbuRoivas: "NiN were in Sydney the other week. I didn't even bother looking into tickets (I think they've been pretty much total shite since Pretty Hate Machine), but I wouldn't be surprised if they were priced at around $100, like most of the bigger international acts these days. On top of fucking his fans like animals financially, he fucked them doubly by cancelling one of the shows at the last second. None of this says much for his respect for his fans."

That's like eight assumptions in a single comment. Bra-vo.

According to some reports from people who went to the other shows, it was a remarkably terrible venue (although the official reason was Trent's voice). If the description in that thread is correct, which is worse: 1) cancelling the concert only one day ahead of time (after they realized how truly bad the place was or after Trent's voice went out) and refunding the ticket price to the ticket holders, some of whom might have non-refundable travel plans, or 2) keeping their money and putting on a show in poor lighting or with a terrible voice?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't, especially in the minds of people who "think they've been total shite since PHM" anyhow.
posted by Plutor at 6:11 AM on May 24, 2007


the real business model is bands making money selling beer by getting people to see them in a bar. that's the way it was before the first record was made and that's the way it will be after the last cd manufacturing plant goes out of business. record labels? totally unnecessary. will people always drink beer? duh.
posted by snofoam at 6:16 AM on May 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


They rescheduled the two cancelled Sydney shows for Sept 15 and 16. Tickets are AUS$83.90, which is US$69. I guess the reasonableness of that price depends on what percentage of shite you think they are.
posted by Plutor at 6:17 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


three blind mice:

This is the same picture, Uburoivas, that makes is highly unlikely bands will ever be able to make money by putting their own music out on the web. Only a pollyanna would believe that the same people who think it's OK to rip-off the record company will feel any different about ripping off the individual artist.

In that case, these people wouldn't have paid for an album anyhow! You can't lose sales that you're not making in the first place.
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:21 AM on May 24, 2007


Just wanted to second how awesome Passman's book is. Read it.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:58 AM on May 24, 2007


Me fears production quality might be lessened if no one had studio backing for their recording sessions.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:35 AM on May 24


Are you kidding? Right now record company execs are compressing the crap out of the next new releases so that they will only sound good through computer speakers. Even name acts like Bob Dylan have their recordings harmed in this fashion.
posted by caddis at 7:42 AM on May 24, 2007


What do the labels really have to offer?

A studio? The barriers to entry are dropping left and right, if they even exist anymore. It's possible to buy your own studio for less than it cost to record a single album ten years ago.

Distribution? It's free. It's so free that people do it for fun, and the labels have to lawyer up to stop them. Online music is here to stay, and physical media is going the way of land lines and VCRs. This completely cuts labels and their distribution networks out of the picture.

Marketing? Also free. A little thing called 'MySpace,' have you heard of it? Sure, I turn up my nose at MySpace when I'm feeling pretentious, but if it wasn't here there'd be some other crappy yet ubiquitous social network that would help you promote yourself. DIY marketing is the future, and it's already here.

I love threads like this one because it gives us a historical record, so people will be able to read this later and say, "Wow, remember when the labels still kinda mattered?"
posted by mullingitover at 3:12 AM on May 24


It's so true, they are like dead men walking. Although now that Rupert Murdoch owns Myspace - ick - someone else needs to step into the fray. Also, indie bands don't get to be "featured" based on talent alone anymore on MySpace or YouTube. Those site now sell that privilege for thousands of dollars. Still, OK Go resuscitated their flagging career with a clever treadmill video on YouTube (although I don't think they paid for placement, but I hear that the YouTube founders wrote to them and suggested that they put a video up on YouTube)
posted by caddis at 7:56 AM on May 24, 2007


give me an artist that works. not one that gets paid to play. one that works and then plays. the two most important types of artists will still play hard:

artists who play for themselves will still give us their unique brand of beautiful masturbation. Go Dionysus!

artists who have something to say will have to sharpen their skills and cut out the bullshit because they have to muster up such amazing effort to create on what little free time they can afford. the can only afford to do their best. Go Apollo!
posted by es_de_bah at 8:51 AM on May 24, 2007


Just don't give me this kinda stale NIN album. Good effort Trent, and keep fighting the good fight against your label.

Trent is a dinosaur hailing a comet. This is a respectable thing to be at his age.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:53 AM on May 24, 2007


UbuRoivas: NiN were in Sydney the other week. I didn't even bother looking into tickets (I think they've been pretty much total shite since Pretty Hate Machine), but I wouldn't be surprised if they were priced at around $100, like most of the bigger international acts these days.

And then:

Anybody who's spent any time in the business world should know that there are all kinds of costs involved in running a business

So which is it? Since you didn't 'bother looking into' any facts in your assumption, how much does it cost for the 'bigger international acts' to put on a concert in Sydney? I'm guessing it costs a bunch and that's why ticket prices for such acts are high. Or what? You think those guys setting up the stage and lighting and working security and marketing just work for free?
posted by NationalKato at 8:55 AM on May 24, 2007


This is pretty stupid. If it wasnt for the big label's work in promiting him (oh gawd remember all those nin stickers) and their evil tactics he wouldnt have the name recognition and fame to be able to go all digital. I'm not advocating the big label way of doing things, but he's definitely living off their past misdeeds. Now saying "thanks for making me famous, now I'm going to take a moral route" is being more than a little disingenuous.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2007


Yeah, people shouldn't be allowed to regret their actions! Flip-flopper!
posted by Plutor at 9:40 AM on May 24, 2007


Firas: The first thing I would do if I had eg. a Myspace following and didn't want to sign to major label is to form a corporation and let my nascent fanbase buy shares… although that can get very messy.

May I please introduce you to Issa, aka the Artist Formerly Known As Jane Siberry?

(Her new website)

For years, she's done a Patron Program, in which her fans pay directly for studio time and in return, get first copies of the resulting album and other special stuff. Seen recently on her news page:
The response to the Museletter about sponsoring a day in the studio has been wonderful. If you read the studio blogs, you'll see your initials on the day to which you contributed (blog.myspace.com/issalight or the journal at issalight.com). This really warms my heart and makes me feel part of an amazing community. But please note: this includes everyone, not just the people who have used the currency of money to be patrons. Currency comes in many forms. Thanks everyone.
Also, because I can never resist telling this story: once upon a time at the Cleveland Agora, Trent Reznor totally checked out my ass. I mean, staring, not just a glance. Awww yeah. He likes big butts and he cannot lie...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:42 AM on May 24, 2007


Great story, bitter girl, both of them. I was assuming that pre-production sales to fans wouldn't raise enough capital for the production process and would be more of a way to prove to an independent investor that you have interested buyers (eg. the way magazine subscription sales are mainly to show advertisers that someone's reading them.) It's amazing that she can actually get her fans to bankroll the studio time.

Personally I'm not sure that labels are bad things and that making each act its own business is the way to go. It sounds really inefficient. Eighty indie bands together can afford a resident publicist, accountant, CEO, etc. etc.; for eighty individual indie bands, trying to do their own publicity/management/and so forth is all just a big distraction.
posted by Firas at 12:31 PM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


UbuRoivas "NiN were in Sydney the other week. I didn't even bother looking into tickets (I think they've been pretty much total shite since Pretty Hate Machine), but I wouldn't be surprised if they were priced at around $100, like most of the bigger international acts these days. On top of fucking his fans like animals financially, he fucked them doubly by cancelling one of the shows at the last second. None of this says much for his respect for his fans."

He cancelled his Oakland show on his With Teeth tour, what, two years ago? Anyways, I had tickets. They weren't horribly priced, comparable to other stadium shows I've been to. Yeah, he cancelled, but he rescheduled as one of the first stops on his next tour, and he ripped the roof off the place. I much preferred seeing him play while he was fresh rather than being fried and road-weary and doing a crappy job out of some sense of obligation.
posted by lekvar at 12:53 PM on May 24, 2007


Thanks, Firas. Well, here's the thing -- as an author, I have:

* Individual publishers giving me smallish advances during the production phase of a work, then promoting the work I've done for them, and
* An agent -- who I hired, and have a choice to keep or not, since she works for me.

I don't see why musicians can't structure themselves similarly. Instead of automagically giving your next [x] albums to Big Giant Record Company, Inc by signing away your soul on the dotted line, work up a proposal for the album. In my profession, it's an outline, maybe a sample chapter or some photos. For a band, maybe it's some home recording-ish tracks, a proposed list of tour dates, a video of a recent live show with their latest songs slated for the album, etc.

Then, the band's agent is responsible for obtaining the best dollar amount and terms for each project on a PER-PROJECT basis (per CD, per tour, per whatever...) from the "publisher" (record company).

Record company doesn't do squat to promote your CD and it flops? You can go to Rival Big Giant Record Company, Inc. and sell them your next project instead. Of course, if you really do suck, they're probably not going to want to pick you up -- it's the same with authors -- but if you have a dedicated internet fanbase or something else to offer, some other company will surely pick you up and pay to produce your next CD or tour in exchange for part of the proceeds.

Or, if you don't want the Big Company producing it, fund it yourself from your fanbase and sell it for $4 a pop online a la Reznor.

It's a working model already, it's got an established system in the book-publishing world, and it's relatively more fair than the current music model. It could be even better for the musicians, revenue-wise, since in the age of digital music, CDs and downloads are hella cheaper to produce than printed books, so publishers wouldn't have to take as high a percentage.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:02 PM on May 24, 2007


This is a great discussion (wish I wasn't coming to it so late). Basically, all of the issues you've been discussing here are why I started my own record label, although to minimize the risks as much as possible (being your typical risk-averse musician), I took a somewhat unconventional approach, and invested in a commercial short-run CD printer (not one of those crappy ink-jet jobs either, but a real industrial strength thermal re-transfer printer).

So now, my wife and I and the various other local musicians we're able to help out are free to produce and release whatever music we want. Because we don't have to invest in large-scale manufacturing for each new release, we can afford to release music without any immediate sales potential (i.e., bands that aren't actively touring, aren't already well-known, aren't independently wealthy, aren't part of some obscure but trendy cultural movement, etc.), produced by truly independent DIY artists.

With our on-demand business model, we can sign bands (non-exclusively, and with a much more generous revenue sharing arrangement than usual) and then just let the band's sales potential develop at its own pace. Basically, the bands get the following out of the deal:

1) Advances of free commercial-quality CDs to sell at live shows (the band's only have to reimburse us the cost of materials and a 25% share on each CD after they sell them).

2) Digital retail and special order distribution as well as distribution through our on-demand store on-line (cloud13records.com)

3) Limited radio and print promotion (our budget is small, but growing--we were recently able to buy advertising on Pitchfork, for example).

To supplement our promotions and operating budget, we also offer short-run CD printing and duplication as a service to musicians in our home town, and that gives us a little extra money to play with.

The label's development has all been pretty low-key, small-scale and grass roots up until now, but our sales are growing steadily, and hey, we're already doing better than cash-flow neutral. Still, I can't quit my day-job just yet ('specially not with a baby boy at home to feed). But I hope the Cloud 13 project will if nothing else contribute in some small way to the development of alternative, innovative and artist-centric business models for the music industry to adopt.

Ironically, running the label has left me with barely any time to work on new material of my own, but hey, at least now I don't have to worry about how I'll get my next album released when it's finally done!
posted by saulgoodman at 2:40 PM on May 24, 2007


$29 = AU price = ridiculous, $18 = US price = just fine?

$18 USD = $21.80 AUD.

This is why I (in Australia) used to buy all my music through amazon or other US based companies. After shipping and currency conversion, it still usually worked out cheaper.

Despite these prices, I read that last year was the second best year on record for CD sales. Damn music pirates.
posted by tomble at 2:57 PM on May 24, 2007


Addendum : I also buy most everything TMBG release from their site in glorious, non DRM mp3s.
posted by tomble at 2:59 PM on May 24, 2007


NationalKato: yes, that was a massive contradiction of mine that you pointed out (costs of running a business v 'exorbitant' ticket prices). I guess it's just a gut reaction to ticket prices that seem to me to have gone through the roof in recent years, and in the case of concerts, I can't really see how each show can cost $100,000 or above to stage (assuming a medium-sized venue of 1,000 people at $100 a pop - NiN may well have been at venues of 5,000 to 15,000).

Sure, there are overheads like insurance, venue booking, publicity, security, sound & lighting, roadies etc, but local (interstate) acts can put on shows for half the price or less, so what are people paying for? International air freight for the equipment? Or is it a simple matter of what the market can bear?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:03 PM on May 24, 2007


Thanks for your insights saulgoodman. If there's one thing I've learned when it comes to enterprise is that there's an astronomical difference between hypothesizing about stuff and actually doing it; you get mad respect from me for actually pulling it off :)

Many of the clued-in upstart labels/innovative arrangements seem to be based on non-exclusive deals with bands. Such a far cry from the mainstream model in which (if I understand correctly) the band actually turns its copyright over to the label. I've been a fan of magnatune.com for a long while now.

bitter girl, I agree that the book industry is a good example of a saner way of doing business. Though I imagine there's a lot more 'friction' to getting a book deal as a first-time author than there needs to be in getting 'formalized' as a band (assuming that the band has already built an audience.)
posted by Firas at 5:13 PM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Here's my model for the new - RIAA-free - music industry.

Similar to firas's idea of forming the band as a corporation and letting the fans buy shares, why not a model where bands of similar scenes and interests form collectives, of which people can buy shares? It's more in tune with how people, particularly avid music fans, think about their music, and it encourages new acts that are good enough to attract the collective. Each band keeps their own manager, and they just hire an accountant and small staff to look over it all.

Oh, and every pro-business defense of the RIAA is bullshit. I believe in businesses making good economic choices, but the RIAA is simply evil through and through. Loan-sharking is a more moral - and from the Artist's perspective, easily more profitable - way to do the same thing.

RIAA Model:

We front the cash to record your album.

We will take somewhere between 75% and 90% of the revenue from the album.

The recording costs will come out of your cut.

The marketing costs will come out of your cut.

You will need to tour to make up your debt to us.

The touring costs will come out of your cut.

Oh, and we snuck in a bullshit law that says that we own the rights to your songs in perpetuity, and you will never have the rights to them once you've recorded for us.

So fuck the RIAA. They have no purpose other than to leech off others. THey do nothing of value and take everything from those of talent that they come into contact with.

Great post, phaedon. Seriously.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:53 PM on May 24, 2007


According to some reports from people who went to the other shows, it was a remarkably terrible venue (although the official reason was Trent's voice).

Actually, the venue itself isn't too bad. It's quite a new one, purpose built a couple of years ago for exactly this kind of thing. I saw Nick Cave there, and he lifted the roof. Sounds like there were all sorts of problems with the lighting, though. I have no idea if they hired the lighting & staff, or if there's a massive entourage, complete with their own equipment, but either way, it doesn't sound like people were really getting what they paid for, not that this is necessarily Trent's fault. I imagine that somebody has just made themselves permanently unemployable in the live music industry, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:16 PM on May 24, 2007


bitter girl, I agree that the book industry is a good example of a saner way of doing business. Though I imagine there's a lot more 'friction' to getting a book deal as a first-time author than there needs to be in getting 'formalized' as a band (assuming that the band has already built an audience.)

Yeah, but I see a band as more a nonfiction author than a fiction author -- see, nonfiction authors have a certain skill, and if they're talented in the way they present their information (songs), they get a fanbase. Fiction authors have a MUCH harder time getting in the door, since novels are all hit or miss hype, for the most part. Whereas someone nonfic like me got her first book deal like this:

Other author: You write. You knit. Have you ever written anything longer than a blog post?
Me: Yes.
Other author: Ok, my editor wants someone to write a book on knitting for tweens. Wanna?
Me: Yes

In that same way, there's no reason, say, Big Deal Band can't mention to their "publisher" -- "Hey, this cool new band opened for us in Cleveland, you should check them out." and get them the same kind of exposure. Or that the publisher can't say "Band, we're paying for your tour, and we'd like you to keep an eye out for fresh talent while you're on the road."
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:10 AM on May 25, 2007


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