A look at the music news over the past week shows that not only has the sky already fallen for the music industry but now we’re all just staring at the ground, trying to figure out what to do with all of the pieces. Where there was once a firmament over our heads -- the benevolent music industry comprised of labels, performance rights organizations, and trade groups, all designed to protect the rights of the creative artist, a small figure within the protective dome -- there now is a crumbled shell, the remains of which showing where the Internet drove right through it.
Currently at the helm is Radiohead, who have used the Internet to their immediate advantage. Gigwise has reported today that the band has sold 1.2 million copies of their latest album In Rainbows, which is still being offered to fans at a revolutionary self-determined payment structure. While some fans certainly will opt to pay nothing for the album, others have decided to pay what they consider a fair price. Either way, you gotta figure, though, that without have to pay promotion fees to a label, and with the relatively paired down website for ordering and streamlined digital delivery system (actually, you have to go get the file yourself), making the overhead for making the music available comparatively infinitesimal, the band will make money no matter what. Will others be able to follow suit? The next test will be equally important.
Perhaps it will be Nine Inch Nails to follow. Trent Reznor has already encouraged fans to steal his music, and now that he himself is free of label obligations, he has the flexibility, and the fan base, to try it. That’s right, Nine Inch Nails no longer has contractual obligations (well, after the November release of the mix CD Y34RZ3R0R3MIX3D on Interscope). On Monday, Reznor wrote on nin.com:
following announcement: as of right now Nine Inch Nails is a totally free agent, free of any recording contract with any label. I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate. Look for some announcements in the near future regarding 2008. Exciting times, indeed.
It would be surprising if Reznor didn’t follow this up with something surprising.
The music industry isn’t taking all of this laying down. Just ask Jammie Thomas of Duluth, MN, who was was found liable for copyright infringement last Thursday. Her case is notable not only in that a single mother of two has been fined an excessive amount of $222,000 for sharing files through Kazaa, but also because it’s the first file-sharing case to go before a jury. All of the others who have been charged by the RIAA -- over 25,000 of them -- have settled out of court. According to Wired, RIAA attorney Richard Gabriel exclaimed to reporters, “This is what can happen if you don’t settle. I think we have sent a message we are willing to go to trial.” While the RIAA continues to hold up its chunk of the sky, pro-Jammie supporters have set up Free Jammie, as site designed to collect payment for Thomas’ legal fees and sizable penalty.
But push back as they might, record labels are finding themselves pushed by downloaders, or at least that’s what they claim. USA Today reports that Jive Records will release Britney Spears‘ Blackout two weeks early, though not until October 30, in attempt to thwart downloading of a recent Internet leak of the album. Since anyone who might want to download the leaked album would have done so by then anyway, the pushed release date might also have something to do with the Britney’s recent headlines. Check out this recent article in The Seattle Times, featuring execs from Sub Pop, if you want to read more about whether or not album leaks might hurt artists.
Finally, Moby is experimenting with open licensing for independent filmmakers who want to use his music. At mobygratis.com, Moby has provided “‘film music’... for independent and non-profit filmmakers, film students, and anyone in need of free music for their independent, non-profit film, video, or short.” He will also allow any commercial filmmakers to license the music “with any money that’s generated being given to the humane society.”