Nine Inch Nails (NIN) fans were caught by surprise this week when NIN mastermind Trent Reznor dropped by the band’s web site to announce that 405 GB of HD live footage somehow found its way online. The raw HD recordings, which document three of the band’s latest concerts from multiple camera angles, are available as a free BitTorrent download. Thousands of fans have started to download the footage, despite the fact that downloading 405 GB will literally take days, if not weeks, with an average consumer broadband connection.
This is not the first time Reznor has challenged traditional media distribution models. NIN promoted its 2007 album Year Zero with the help of a complex alternate reality game. The band also released its 2008 album Ghosts I-IV under a Creative Commons license and uploaded parts of the album to the Pirate Bay. That didn’t seem to stop the success of the album, which recently topped Amazon’s list of the best-selling MP3 albums of 2008. Could Reznor’s massive video experiment lead to a similar success story?
Reznor told his fans on Wednesday that “a mysterious, shadowy group of subversives” somehow was able to shoot the footage due to a lack of security at the shows in question. “I’ll bet some enterprising fans could assemble something pretty cool (with the footage)”, he wrote, continuing: “Oh yeah, you didn’t hear this from me.“
The reason for all this winking and nudging is obvious: NIN used to be under contract with Universal Music Group outlet Interscope for the last couple of years. The band left the label in 2008 under less than amicable terms and has since published music online and on its own record label.
However, some of the songs played on stage on the most recent tour are still from NIN’s corporate history, and the publishing rights for these songs remain with Universal Music Publishing. Reznor complained publicly in December that NIN can’t legally release a DVD featuring complete gigs from the latest tour because of those copyright complications.
But that apparently didn’t stop the band from helping those shadowy subversives with some professional infrastructure in the hope that NIN’s fans would end up making their own tour DVDs. The P2P downloads of the raw concert footage are facilitated by NIN’s official BitTorrent tracker, the links to the torrents were first posted by the band’s art director, and the audio tracks of the recordings sound an awful lot like the clean sound you’d get straight from a concert venue’s mixing console. Finally, each download comes with a text file that explains how to use the raw HD footage material for fan edits: “(T)he included sequence has been prepared with all the camera angles in sync, ready for editing.”
Fans using the Intenet to trade live recordings isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Sites like Etree have been offering live bootleg audio recordings for years, and many bands have turned a blind eye to this practice, if not actively encouraged it. However, this is the first time that professional raw HD footage has been leaked on such a massive scale.
It’s unclear yet what the overall impact of this leak will be on both NIN’s online strategy and tour DVDs in general. The band impressed the music world when it demonstrated that freely available music downloads can lead to huge revenues, but its unlikely that Reznor will see any direct revenue from video mashups created by his fans. And don’t hold your breath for other well-known acts to release similarly generous tour footage downloads either. The risk of getting sued by giant music publishing companies is just too high.
However, there may be more HD torrents from NIN in the future. Reznor has long planed to release a movie based on his music’s narratives and things like the alternate reality game that promoted Year Zero. One shouldn’t be too surprised to see video footage of such a movie find its way online, possibly leaked by shadowy subversives, which in turn could give DVD sales a huge bump.