So yesterday Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails unveiled his latest album, a two-hour instrumental offering called Ghosts I-IVexclusively online. He did it without any mainstream promotion, though within the NIN fandom there had been over two weeks of anticipation, based on a very cryptic post left on the nin website/blog. So while the NIN fandom – myself included – was expecting a big announcement(I was hoping for a tour, myself), to the rest of the world, the CD was a “quiet release.” In truth, it was anything but.
Shrewd on Trent’s part, as he knows us crazydevoted NIN fans, those of us who would easily consider shelling out $75-$300 for a “special edition” release are his bread and butter. While the industry/legal ramifications of this release are what’s currently crashing the nin.com servers right now as curious bloggers and music fans who like to collect music for free sample the tunes in question, at the end of the day, the NIN camp kept the “promotion” viral and local, letting the fanbase (blogs and fan boards like Echoing the Sound, primarily) do the heavy lifting for him.
Both Radiohead and NIN see the benefits in this. I think we’re in an age now where the lifelong music fan is increasingly becoming a rarity. While I am a huge supporter of Creative Commons and remix culture and a very vocal critic of the RIAA’s strong arm tactics – bullying music lovers while grossly overcharging for product, at the same time the growing fan consensus of file-sharing as the norm leaves working musicians in a bad situation. Studio time isn’t cheap, and musician have to eat an pay rent like the rest of us.
To me, Creative Commons licensing and digital distribution aside, what’s going to keep the music industry alive is this kind of hyper-focused marketing – knowing your fanbase well, communicating directly and intimately to them, and delivering something unique that you know they’ll value (and most importantly pay for.)So while I think that many of us can agree that the recording industry has got to change, the second question is, what model will allow artists to make any kind of profit from their work, so that they can support themselves and make more music. I think Trent may indeed have a answer here.
BTW: my first impressions of Ghosts I-IV are here.