You've all heard by now that Radiohead's soon-to-be-released new album, In Rainbows, due out in a mere two days, is not being released on a major label but will instead be available exclusively on Radiohead's website for a price to be determined by the purchaser.
It's up to you. No really, it's up to you.
I think the whole thing has a Willy Wonka feel to it. The reclusive geniuses have been holed away working on god-knows-what and now, out of the blue, they drop the crazy news that their mystery album will be released in a handful of days, and fans can download it for whatever they want to pay! The announcement generates a storm of worldwide press that nearly crashes the band's website and lands them millions of dollars worth of free publicity in magazines and newspapers, on television shows, and of websites and blogs. It reminds me of the part in the movie where Wonka, a reclusive genius who had been holed away working on god-knows what, dropped the crazy news that there were five Golden Tickets in Wonka Bars, all good for tours of Wonka's candy factory, and the whole world went ape shit.
From the Wik: Wonka's eccentric behavior, inventions, ignoring the rules of science and self imposed isolation and paranoia classify him as a Mad Scientist.
I'm on the email lists of a bunch of music promoters, including Radiohead's U.S. publicity company, Nasty Little Man. This is an e-mail I got from them last week:
There will be no advances, promotional copies, digital streams, media sites, etc. of RADIOHEAD's In Rainbows.I can only imagine how inundated they were with e-mails from magazine types after the buzz began.
Everyone in the world will be getting the music at the same time:
Oct. 10. That includes us. We don't have anything to play anyone in
the nine days until the record is available. Everyone at nasty has
put his or her order in and just to clarify: you are not being asked
to pay for a promo (as some have inquired). you can pay nothing or as much or as little as you want.
There will be no promotional copies of the discbox either, as each
discbox is being made to order. Sorry.
I read an article on the move in the latest issue of Time magazine, and there are many in the already battered record industry who are afraid of what this new "model" will do to their bottom line. (One record company exec said, "If you can pay whatever you want for music by the best band in the world, why would you pay $13 or 99 cents for music by somebody less talented?") Radiohead insists they're not trying to come up with a new business model, but instead that they just really want everyone to get their music at the same time.
I bet it's really about control though. About controlling their music, their marketing efforts, their schedules. Their business. Their lives. Imagine what an nightmare it must be to produce a big-time record. Imagine how many people are involved in that process, pulling at your art and time in every direction like it's some kind of (Wonka) taffy, trying to find as many ways as they can to make as much money off of you as they possibly can.
Oh and by the way, which one's Pink?
If that's the price you have to pay to make a living doing what you want, so be it. But what if that price is unnecessary? I'm sure Radiohead will still make millions on the digital downloads, even with voluntary pricing. (I plan on paying four pounds, which is like eight bucks, I believe.) Considering that a band doesn't even make 20 percent on album sales these days when they're with a record company, the potentially slightly less revenue is a small price to pay for eliminating all of that other crap, especially when you already have all the money you'll ever need. (And they've got a major tour on the way in 2008, where they'll clean up anyway. The DM and I will see them live, that's for sure. Probably a couple of times.)
Yep, Radiohead is in control. They've used their insane new scheme to weed out all of the liars, the gluttons, the spoiled, ill-behaved cretins who only wanted to juice them for all they could get, and they're passing their music on on their own terms.
Oompa loompa, indeed.
Ten years ago this Friday -- on the DM's birthday, in Raoul Duke's North Carolina apartment -- was the day we discovered OK Computer.