Music

Radiohead Cuts Out Two Middlemen

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With their new record In Rainbows out Oct 10, the much-beloved Brit rock band Radiohead cut out two middlemen: first, the major record label–the former EMI band is releasing the record themselves.

The other middleman they are cutting out? The guy who will obtain the CD and make it available for free on file sharing networks. By allowing you to download it from their own website for whatever you want to pay, they are working on making that dude obsolete as well.

My 1997 reason feature article on self-ownership and attitudes toward capitalism and markets in music and comics, which predicted this sort of thing.

NEXT: Revisiting the Danish Cartoon Crisis

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  1. Give your music away and sell your concert tickets. That sounds like a viable business model, especially in this day and age when the cost of recording a record is lower than it once was.

  2. Disintermediation….

    coming to scrabble boards near you, soon!

    (the real reason for the cut out – that guy was, like, a CREEP, so they pulled the Ripcord, realizing that anybody can play guitar)

    (runs off)

  3. Agreed. Especially when it seems like you have to take out a second mortgage to pay for most concert tix. I long for the mid 80s when I paid a scalper 55DM (less than $20 US at the time) for a ticket to see Dire Straits in Munich. Factor in inflation and currency exchange rates, and that’s still a hell of a lot less than the $150+ face value they’d charge for a US tour today.

  4. Great job, Radiohead!! Although I’ve never really paid much attention to their music, I’m almost tempted to download their album and pay a good price for it…as a sort of pat on the back for taking this approach. I hope to see more following their footsteps. There’s so many positives that could come out of following such a model…(incentive for musicians to put out better material; incentive for fans to support their favorite musicians; not to mention all the packaging and middleman costs…etc etc etc.)

  5. Musicians have always made their money touring, not through record sales. But the article makes it sound like any small band with a myspace page is going to get as much marketing out of it as if they were on a label. That’s just not true. Sure, Radiohead can pull it off – they are a huge name act. But the 4 guys you saw at the Knitting Factory on Wednesday? They’re not going to be international superstars directly selling downloads from their website. Not that I wouldn’t want to see the artists cutting the labels off – why should I pay a record label $14 when they band would sell it for $1?

  6. Good for the, the recording industry makes me ill. They put out mediocre crap and then charge $20 a pop for it.

  7. They are also offering a physical copy for 40 quid:

    “THIS CONSISTS OF THE NEW ALBUM, IN RAINBOWS, ON CD AND ON 2 X 12 INCH HEAVYWEIGHT VINYL RECORDS. A SECOND, ENHANCED CD CONTAINS MORE NEW SONGS, ALONG WITH DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS AND ARTWORK. THE DISCBOX ALSO INCLUDES ARTWORK AND LYRIC BOOKLETS. ALL ARE ENCASED IN A HARDBACK BOOK AND SLIPCASE. THE ALBUM DOWNLOAD AUTOMATICALLY COMES WITH THIS PACK.”

    (Sorry for the all-caps; this was a cut and paste job.) So the diehard fans will be happy, the casual listeners will be happy, Radiohead will make a lot of money and be happy. Who won’t be happy? The record label. Heh.

  8. Theres also a trend towards this distribution model for video games, particularly those on computers. But consoles, too, are beginning to jump on board (X Box Live Arcade, Virtual Console/Wii Ware). Right now its mostly old retro games, small games, and niche games like Galactic Civilizations but at the rate at which hard drives are increasing in 10 years it could be current gen games, too. It would cut the price at least $20, and save us all shelf space.

  9. Considering that bands on record labels get only a fraction of the retail prices of CD, selling the music directly might mean less people paying, but a higher number of dollars per album sold..

  10. Radiohead is so cool.

    Even if you find their albums a little too challenging (or wanky) for your tastes, check ’em out live. They do a great job at the extra-large venues. They give you a complete package. Really good show.

    Now, I’ve got to figure out what a fair price is.

  11. Radiohead is back on top as the coolest band going right now. There’s no reason why an unsigned band couldn’t do the same. If their music is good, and they could get it reviewed by Pitchfork or someone else widely read, they would be set. Is there anyone by pop stars still tied to success through the radio or MTV?

  12. To continue what VM was saying, they must have felt it in their bones. i hope their bank account gets the bends from going up too quickly.

  13. I’m guessing they will still make plenty of money on the royalties paid by radio stations.

  14. Here’s a post regarding the same issue from CNET

    http://blogs.cnet.com/8301-13505_1-9788424-16.html

  15. [looking at picture of middleman]
    been thinkin’ about you…

  16. stuartl: Ha! I wonder how much of the profits they’ll be willing to give up for payola, errr, paying independent promoters. (answer: none)

  17. I think this is a fine idea, and I hope it works out for them (never much cared for their music myself), but can we stop with the “record labels are evil because I don’t like paying money for music” crap? Record labels spend a ton of money looking for talent and marketing that talent. The reason that bands don’t like them is because they often take a big chunk of their early earnings. Guess why? Because they are usually a fairly unknown band that needs marketing. To pretend that you “just need to put your music out there and you’ll make it” is a bunch of crap, as most professional musicians will tell you.

  18. That sounds like a viable business model, especially in this day and age when the cost of recording a record is lower than it once was.

    If you take into account your own labor (i.e. writing, recording etc.), the cost of recording has not changed a bit. It’s not as easy to make good music as one would think.

    Of course, you could just skip all of the creative process and keep churning out the crappy pop that record companies create. I suppose that brings costs down.

    (Disgruntled Musician)

  19. TAKTIX IS ACTUALLY A DRUMMER. WE HAVE PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE.

  20. TAKTIX IS ACTUALLY A DRUMMER. WE HAVE PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE.

    ?!?

  21. TAKTIX IS ACTUALLY A DRUMMER. WE HAVE PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE.

    So, in other words, not really a musician !jk!

    Q: What did the drummer get on his IQ test?
    A: Drool

  22. Recording won’t be released until October 10.
    Is there a torrent of it up yet?

  23. Radiohead must be optimistic that this method of selling records will work. Maybe someday all records will be sold this way, maybe even the national anthem.

  24. I don’t like their music, but they have won a measure of respect from me on this one. I wonder how long it will be before record shop owners claim they are being betrayed by Radiohead, as they did when Prince released his CD for free in Britain.
    They make take a hit on this album as far as profit is concerned, but given the free nature of this, it seems inevitable they will reach a wider audience, an audience that may be willing to pay for a record the next time.

  25. Q: What did the drummer get on his IQ test?
    A: Drool

    Q: What do you call people who hang out with musicians?
    A: Drummers

  26. Derek Webb, a singer-songwriter from Nashville, gave away his album “Mockingbird” for FREE on the web back in 2006. . . By doing this he SOLD more albums than ever expected.

    Webb is a maverick Christian artist (a lone voice addressing the hypocrisy of the church, and criticized for his ‘strong’ language). His libertarian leanings come out in his interviews and songs like ‘Name’ and ‘In God We Trust’.

    Check him out at derekwebb.com, or listen to his current album for FREE at
    http://www.theringingbell.com

    So, there’s my plug for one of the few Christian artists that’s worth listening to. Enjoy!

  27. incentive for musicians to put out better material

    This is a common complaint amongst nonmusicians, that record companies intentionally put out an album of crap with just one or two “good” tracks. The fact is, bands put out their best work, and most of the time most of it just isn’t very good. Fortunately for those fans of these not-very-good musicians, they (the fans) can now buy tracks individually. This new trend will not, however, somehow force mediocre musicians to become great ones. It just doesn’t work that way.

  28. Couldn’t they cut out even more middlemen by releasing another album this way, and telling people it was a Coldplay album?

    That way they cut out Coldplay’s record label, the guy buying Coldplay’s CD and uploading it to a share site, and…Coldplay.

  29. Couldn’t they cut out even more middlemen by releasing another album this way, and telling people it was a Coldplay album?

    That way they cut out Coldplay’s record label, the guy buying Coldplay’s CD and uploading it to a share site, and…Coldplay.

    Already done. See: Blue October

  30. I long for the mid 80s when I paid a scalper 55DM (less than $20 US at the time) for a ticket to see Dire Straits in Munich.

    You got ripped off…

  31. I might be wrong, but this kind of thing has to make Billboard sulk. How are they going to know who is famous? How are they supposed to be able to tell people who ought to be famous?

    They prefer to have everything in its right place.

  32. “can we stop with the “record labels are evil because I don’t like paying money for music” crap?”

    I don’t think record labels are evil, I just think they aren’t indispensable anymore, and that’s the beauty of all this.

    Most people probably dislike them because of their habit of suing their potential consumers, though. I’m not saying that they had easy choices with the whole P2P thing, but suing people to save your business model that technology is making obsolete isn’t the smartest way to do it.

  33. This is a common complaint amongst nonmusicians, that record companies intentionally put out an album of crap with just one or two “good” tracks. The fact is, bands put out their best work, and most of the time most of it just isn’t very good. Fortunately for those fans of these not-very-good musicians, they (the fans) can now buy tracks individually. This new trend will not, however, somehow force mediocre musicians to become great ones. It just doesn’t work that way.

    I think the complaint generally is that non-representative tracks are chosen as singles (nothing wrong with that), but since people can’t hear the whole thing before they buy, they end up with albums they don’t like.

    But if you download before you buy, you only end up buying stuff you really like. That’s what I do.

  34. Everything after OK Computer has sucked IMHO. If there is no guitar and nothing but all that technocrap, I will offer very little.

  35. If you take into account your own labor (i.e. writing, recording etc.), the cost of recording has not changed a bit. It’s not as easy to make good music as one would think.

    Of course, you could just skip all of the creative process and keep churning out the crappy pop that record companies create. I suppose that brings costs down.

    Keep your pants on. I think he was talking about the cost of RECORDING music; technology has made the cost of getting a decent-sounding recording go down quite a bit. Now the choice isn’t “Professional studio or crap sound from 4 track.”

    I’ve heard a lot of stuff recorded by amateurs on their own gear that sounds really good.

  36. Everything after OK Computer has sucked IMHO. If there is no guitar and nothing but all that technocrap, I will offer very little.

    Have you heard Hail to the Thief? More guitars there, though still some electronic stuff.

  37. This is what you’ll get….
    This is what you’ll get….
    This is what you’ll get when you mess with us!

  38. This is a common complaint amongst nonmusicians, that record companies intentionally put out an album of crap with just one or two “good” tracks. The fact is, bands put out their best work, and most of the time most of it just isn’t very good. Fortunately for those fans of these not-very-good musicians, they (the fans) can now buy tracks individually. This new trend will not, however, somehow force mediocre musicians to become great ones. It just doesn’t work that way.

    Ed,

    I understand your point. However, when musicians are under pressure to get albums out by a certain date, a lot of the creative process and fine tuning gets cut out. Without these time limitations, they should be able to put out better material in some cases.

  39. Q:What’s the difference between a pizza and a musician?

    A: The pizza can feed a family of four.

    Few musicians actually make make money, especially on tour, until you hit the major league. An opening act on tour often loses money. You tour to support the album, not the other way around. Your product is your songs. Why shouldn’t musicians be able to make money from their main product? It seems to me people want something for nothing.

  40. When you consider how many clowns get seen by millions on Youtube, there is no reason to think that an unsigned, unknown band, couldn’t break strickly through dowloads. Put up an interesting enough video on Youtube and make decent music that people want to hear and they would be set. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen now. I refuse to beleive that if two chinese college students lipsincing to Boys to Men can be seen by half the civilized world that a band couldn’t break big strictly by internet publicity.

  41. Especially when it seems like you have to take out a second mortgage to pay for most concert tix.

    You’re going to the wrong shows. By the end of October, I will have attended a large handful of shows in the previous month+, and I don’t think I paid face value of $20/ticket for any of them. Maybe Spoon and Interpol, but those were both still pretty reasonable.

    Considering that bands on record labels get only a fraction of the retail prices of CD, selling the music directly might mean less people paying, but a higher number of dollars per album sold.

    Lately I’ve been trying to only buy actual physical CDs at concerts. That’s not always easy, and for most people (those who don’t live in major cities) it’s impossible. But it makes me feel better to buy the music from the artists themselves, and if you see a lot of shows at smaller venues (like Schubas in Chicago), a lot of the time you’re literally buying the music from the artists. They’re the ones working the merch booth.

  42. “””I refuse to beleive that if two chinese college students lipsincing to Boys to Men can be seen by half the civilized world that a band couldn’t break big strictly by internet publicity.”””

    How much are they making on the tour?

    That’s a half snark question. Popularity doesn’t mean you get paid. You still have to produce a product the generates money. For songwriters, it’s songs. Real musicians do it to make a living. When the day comes that two chinese college students lipsincing to Boys to Men can make them a living, you’ll be on to something.

  43. I’d say that labels are becoming obsolete which I’ve always thought will result in the money people make in music being more evenly distributed. You’ll have a lot more small bands making trivial amounts of money instead of a few big bands making tons of it. I know I almost never see famous bands anymore…why pay $20 to see a show when you can see a band that is just as good play for $5? Obviously, I’d love to make more money when I play, but the amount of money I make isn’t going to affect whether or not I keep playing music, so I guess I’m getting the market value of what I’m offering.

    In short, support local music…especially if it’s my band. 🙂

  44. “That’s a half snark question. Popularity doesn’t mean you get paid. You still have to produce a product the generates money. For songwriters, it’s songs. Real musicians do it to make a living. When the day comes that two chinese college students lipsincing to Boys to Men can make them a living, you’ll be on to something.”

    Popularity doesn’t mean getting paid when you have nothing to sell. It does mean getting paid when you are a real act with real songs that people want to listen to. I said you had to have both a good video on YouTube and music people liked to make it. My point was that if the two Chinese kids can get seen by that many people, why can’t an unkown act do the same? If they are a real band and not a gag, why wouldn’t that publicity translate into ticket sales and cash?

  45. “My 1997 reason feature article on self-ownership and attitudes toward capitalism and markets in music and comics, which predicted this sort of thing.”

    Does this give you a boner?

  46. Warning: Shameless Band Plug

    My band: Tripping June

  47. Tripping June?

    Is that what May did to get ahead in line?

  48. If one of those middlemen ain’t Thom Yorke, I ain’t interested.

  49. Props to Radiohead.

  50. I find niche labels, like Metropolis or Labrador–where you have a good idea what you’re in for before buying–to be very useful. The majors, not so much.

  51. Troy,
    I will second the notion that Hail to the Thief restored this huge radiohead fan’s faith in the band. KID A and Amnesiac, and the band will admit this, were overproduced and at times total nonsense (Amnesiac moreso).

    Oh, and I want to play.

    I’ll donate dollars and cents because I’m optimistic radiohead will put everything in its right place. Hope I wont be let down (best… song… ever)

  52. I’ll bend and agree with Rhywun. It still doesn’t mean that Thom Yorke doesn’t need a punch in the dick 68% as much as Bono.

  53. *sniff*

  54. “””I said you had to have both a good video on YouTube and music people liked to make it. My point was that if the two Chinese kids can get seen by that many people, why can’t an unkown act do the same? If they are a real band and not a gag, why wouldn’t that publicity translate into ticket sales and cash?”””

    Bands who want to make money, want people to buy their music. That’s can’t be done if it’s given away. Sure some gets written off as promotion. but that’s an investment towards greater sales and should have the artist’s permission to do so. The Internet, Myspace, and Youtube is an amazing promotional tool for artist.

    As far as ticket sales, that doesn’t necessarily equate to money for the band. It may just be a couple of extra bucks for the promoter. It depends on the level of venue so to speak. I can play here and make a few bucks from each admission at the door. But if I were to open for a national act, I most likely would get a standard flat rate (and not a good one) regardless of tickets sold or how many people saw my youtube video. Few acts make their money playing shows. In the past the purpose of playing live was to get people to buy your album. The tour was a promotion FOR the album and the bulk of your money was made through albums sales. An extremely few acts can survive on tours alone, such as the Rolling Stones. Sure record labels would rip artists off, or allow the artist to rip themselves off is some cases. But, who else was going to give you a Million dollars to record and promote your act? Fortunately is less expensive to record, except in a major studio, what few still exist. But traveling costs a lot more and makes profiting difficult for all but the major acts, and some of them are not immune. Reminds me of watching Dave Mustane of Megadeath back in the ’80s talking about touring. He was talking about expenses one wouldn’t think of such as insurance. He said one of the things the insurance company considers in setting their rate is the name of the band. Then he just gave the camera this look of disapproval, since the name of his band is Megadeath. I was laughing my ass off.

    Bottom line, No one has made a real career from youtube yet. It might get someone 15 minutes of fame, but that’s not a career.

  55. An extremely few acts can survive on tours alone, such as the Rolling Stones. Sure record labels would rip artists off, or allow the artist to rip themselves off is some cases. But, who else was going to give you a Million dollars to record and promote your act? Fortunately is less expensive to record, except in a major studio, what few still exist. But traveling costs a lot more and makes profiting difficult fobillig ed hardy bekleidung

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