The music labels seem to have trouble even thinking about moving in a new direction, but many people have voiced the need for a new model, and finally it's coming. It's been happening in baby steps with websites like amiestreet popping up to help indie artists get their music exposed. At that site, the more popular a song becomes, the higher it's price goes. All songs start out free, and top out at 98 cents. So if you discover a popular song early, you'll get a deal on it.
But this week has significantly upped the ante on new distribution models as both Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are independently distributing their music. Radiohead is making their new album available for download on a website where you can choose how much you want to pay for their album, even if it's $0. They also have a collector's box set for much more, which includes a second disc and a bunch more for the hardcore fans.
Nine Inch Nails had 1 record left in their contract with Universal Music Group, but apparently Universal let them out of their contract. Probably because Trent Reznor has been quite public in how much he hates the music industry and their pricing. On the main nin.com page today, he posted:
"Hello everyone. I've waited a LONG time to be able to make the 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."If you aren't convinced that he is really happy about this, here's what he said at a concert in Australia this past September:
"Last time I was here, I was doing a lot of complaining about the ridiculous prices of CDs down here. And that story got picked up and got carried all around the world and now my record label all around the world hates me, because I yelled at them, I called them out for being greedy fucking assholes. I didn't get a chance to check, has the price come down at all? I see a no, a no, a no... Has anyone seen the price come down? Okay, well, you know what that means - STEAL IT. Steal away. Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin'. Because one way or another these motherfuckers will get it through their head that they're ripping people off and that's not right."So I think odds are pretty good that he's not headed back to any major label anytime soon :)
The message here is clear. If the music industry doesn't start adapting and quit treating even those who are legally buying music like criminals (with restrictions on how the purchases can be used) and like fools (by overcharging to pad their profits and not the artist's), the artists are ready to move forward without them. Radiohead and NIN aren't the first ones to take this approach, but they're probably the two biggest artists to go this route so far. With services like Amie Street becoming more common, even the counter-argument that smaller bands wouldn't have a way to get discovered without big labels is starting to dissolve.
Update: Ian Rogers, the general manager of Yahoo Music, had a great blog post about this same topic:
But now, eight years later, Amazon's finally done what was clearly the right solution in 1999. Music in the format that people actually want it in, with a Web-based experience that's simple and works with any device. I bought tracks from Amazon (Kevin Drew and No Age), downloaded them, sync'd them to my new iPod Nano, and had them playing in my home audio system (Control 4) in less than five minutes. PRAISE JESUS. It only took 8 years.
8 years. How much opportunity have we lost in those 8 years? How much naivety and hubris did we have when we said, "if we build it they will come"? What did we spend? And what did we gain? We certainly didn't gain mass user adoption or trust, two prerequisites to success on the Internet.
I'm here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I'm not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I'll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won't let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don't have any more time to give and can't bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life's too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out.
If, on the other hand, you've seen the light too, there's a very fun road ahead for us all. Lets get beyond talking about how you get the music and into building context: reasons and ways to experience the music. The opportunity is in the chasm between the way we experience the content and the incredible user-created context of the Web.
But the content experience on the Web is crap. Go to Aquarium Drunkard, click an MP3. If you don't get a 404, you'll get a Save As... dialog or the SAME GOD DAMN QUICKTIME BAR FROM 1995. OMFG. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THIS IS ALL WE'VE ACCOMPLISHED IN 15 YEARS ON THE WEB? It makes me insane.
So we have media consumption experiences with no context (desktop media players) and an incredible, endless, emergent contextual experience where media consumption is a pain in the ass, illegal, or non-existent (the Web). FIX IT. Your fans are pouring their music-loving hearts into blogs, Wikipedia, etc and what tools have you given them to work with? Not much, unfortunately.
This is what I'm vowing to devote my energy, and Yahoo!'s energy to.