Radiohead, Music Distribution and You

On Saturday, Sept. 30, English rock band Radiohead announced that they were releasing their new album In Rainbows on Oct. 10. This came as a surprise; most bands alert the public to forthcoming releases months ahead of time, not 10 days prior.

But the real shocker was the band’s distribution method. Not currently signed to any recording label, Radiohead announced that In Rainbows would be available for download on their website on the 10th. The price is up to the buyer. That means you can get it for free, or donate however much you like. I, for the record, am paying $6 for it.

Radiohead has essentially kept their album under wraps so they could leak it themselves onto the Internet. Letting fans decide what they pay isn’t anything new–Quote Unquote Records has always been a donation-based label, and a variety of artists (Derek Webb, Wilco, R.E.M.) have released albums for free on their websites. But this is the first time a Grammy-winning, platinum-selling band has tried this with a brand new release.

This has the potential to shake things up. The recording industry is rife with corruption and abuse, with the blame being dished out equally between suit-and-tie execs, greedy artists and all of us who buy records without even thinking about the ethics. And it’s especially sad when indie rock is championed as the alternative, considering that many of the big “independent” labels like Sub Pop or Tooth & Nail are tethered to major, corporate labels.

But the only reason Radiohead can do this is because they’ve already made money from countless tours and record sales. It would be hard for a band of working joes to do something similar. But the stakes have been raised; if this works–and judging by the response it’s generating online, it probably will–people may start rethinking the ethics and morals behind making music and how it relates to money.

There seems to be little middle ground regarding music; people are either getting cheated by someone or making more money than they know what to do with. At the very least, it may make people look for better alternatives to paying $18 for a new CD or paying $0.99 for a copy-protected digital song (buying directly from the artists or using eMusic are–respectively–two alternatives). This stuff matters: even something as seemingly mundane as record distribution falls under God’s sovereignty, and we need to strive to do what is just and fair for everyone involved.

Jason Panella

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2 Responses to “Radiohead, Music Distribution and You”

  1. Josiah Says:

    I think it would also be appropriate to mention the the future release of the album within a discbox.
    More info can be found at the following address:
    http://www.inrainbows.com/Store/MoreInfo2.htm

  2. Jason Says:

    There’s the discbox, plus the possibility of a standard CD release in ’08 too.

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