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Radiohead: The Music Biz Could Cure Its Ills In One Week

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Since Radiohead seem to have acquired a reputation for being digital soothsayers, here’s band member Ed O’Brien speaking to upcoming Midem music conference

“I have a problem when people in the industry say ‘it’s killing the industry, it’s the thing that’s ripping us apart’. I don’t actually believe it is … (Pirates) might not buy an album, but they’re spending their money buying concert tickets, a t-shirt, whatever.

It’s an analogue business model in a digital era. The business model has to change. You’ve got to license out more music – have more Spotifys, more websites selling more music. You’ve got to make it slightly cheaper to get music in order to compete with the peer-to-peers.

“BitTorrent is very utilitarian, it’s deeply unsexy. The Richard Branson of nowadays would be able to set up a really amazing website for 14- to 24-year-olds that deals with their music … and do something really innovative and make it really easy for people to buy music, and cheap.

“A lot of 14-to 17-year-olds don’t have credit cards, so how are they going to get music digitally? These are very, very, very basic issues – I find it staggering that the industry seems to be really dragging its heels on this – this is stuff that you could do in one week. Move quicker!

“That’s been the whole problem in the last 10 years. Why are we here now? Because the recording industry dragged its feet over digital.”

I will be reporting from Midem this weekend.

11 Responses to “Radiohead: The Music Biz Could Cure Its Ills In One Week”

  1. Antiqcool

    Give it away I say.

    Most of our tracks have been released under a creative commons license.
    We are an independent record label not a big bad corporation out to sue you for file sharing, we WANT you to spread our music around.

    With such an overcrowded market place giving away your music is essential in my opinion. The biggest problem for emerging indie artists today is obscurity, not piracy. To find out more listen to The Antiqcool Podcast

  2. I don’t like radio heads PR PR PR talk rubbish to get PR and make sales this way rubbish I’m just the artist I don’t pamper to the press like them and I don’t want to that’s the model they have found and good luck to them but i’m not buying it and down the line they will be seen as just exploiting the fears of artists and the industry to get a foot up to get the press and act like they know the answers (they don’t) but they are getting the press to find those elusive few paying fans they want.And yeah they might get paying customers in a live event but some artist don’t want to do that i’m an underground dance producer and I don’t banter to “I must be seen or play out” just so I can get paid in fact I rarely banter to anyone’s demands yet have sold hundreds of thousands of records (real vinyl and cds) I know digitals changing everything but a lot of artists are missing the point Like I said i’m just an Artist not a hypest band (milking the current mess hysteria and panic but not selling music just giving it away) .The future is about killing the illegal access to copyrighted material as artists and copyright holders its our right to control our music and our right to set any price we want and if punters don’t like the price they can blow somewhere else as soon as they steal they become common thief’s and quite frankly I don’t want to be dealing with a bunch of thief’s I would rather have a small group of people who understand my work and are prepared to pay for it on my terms than give it away for nearly nothing just to build a ‘fly by night’ fan base and say I have a higher ranking on face book than someone else.There are two things in this game I have always known in my 20 years in the musicYou’re either:In “The music business” (non artists)Or In “The Business of music” (artist)I’m in the business of making music and its changed a lot but a fan that wants to pay nothing for my work is not a fan they are a leach! My creativity is from striving to be creative and it has value Yeah everyone’s giving away music and good luck to you all that’s your choice that’s not what I do and I respect those fans that want to follow me and buy my music and I have no time for those that steal it and think they support me. Over time value will return for those who make a stand with their work and if we can stop the illegal files sharing being done by all those scummy thieving people who think they are into music but clearly are not!People who give their music away do so because they can’t sell it! Think about it.

  3. Hey Russ,

    I think we’re on the same page but I think that you’re mistaken when underestimating the impact of a poorly recorded record. I’m not suggesting that the average listener is going to comment about the level of the background vocals, but they do understand the difference between a professionally recorded record and a demo. You’re right on the money with your comment about the songs: Songs are the beginning and end of an artist. I’d much prefer a shitty recording of a great song than the opposite. The point I’m trying to make is that as long as there continues to be very little revenue from recordings, less and less gifted people will be helping artists realize their dreams because nobody can afford to work for free. By the time bands save enough cash to hire a good producer/engineer, they won’t be able to find them because they’ll be outta business.
    As far as bringing studio prices down, you’re being a bit naive. Almost every great studio has already closed their doors. While they’re not essential to making great records, they sure do help.
    You are correct my friend in stating that this is a circuitous discussion. Free is part of reality. But being the gorilla that I am, I can’t think of a single industry that can survive on the hope that a customer might purchase a product after stealing it. Hey, I’d LOVE to have a Ford GT, but if I drove a quarter million dollar machine off the lot I’d be doing 5-10 for felony grand theft.
    And forget about having RR produce your record. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors there. A lot.
    Be well and keep at it. It’s artists of your age that are going to forge a new path.

  4. russvale

    I kind of agree with you Tim, but you’re underestimating a lot of artists who do record their own material and make it sound good! For a good part you are right- most will sound like demos and a good studio engineer is worth their weight in gold.

    As for my material, I’m not planning to cut out the studio at all. And our way of doing things is not going to work for everyone. Our aim is to give away demos and home recordings, attract people to gigs (which it has done) and use any promotional tool possible to get the word out. Eventually we will pay a good engineer to record us properly. Then we have a product. Now, selling that product leads us to where we are now. Of actually selling it. Free music is something that’s unavoidable but the key is to think outside the box. But the whole point of giving our demo away for free is, as you say, because it sounds like a demo.

    I do care about records. I love records. And I love a record made well. As far as I’m concerned if Rick Rubin produced an album I would buy it if it came wrapped in newspaper! But most of the best records are over-priced and under-promoted and that makes people like you and I look to quote you “mediocre”. And this is the core of the problem.

    Btw, saying that a mediocre recording represents the talent of a musician is ludicrous. I have, and continue to work with musicians who have talent that is aching to be heard by millions but do not have the money, business-mind or the luck to record and promote it. Thus, their recordings are IN-acurate of their craft. Plus, do not underestimate the power of good songs that shine through shoddy recordings. You and I have the trained ears to know the difference between good and bad recordings but many non-musicians do not!

    In answer to your question, I don’t think anything I do is “mediocre”. I’m just on a budget. If you want studios to stay in business when the big guns of the industry have stopped financing bands, then bring studio prices down! And you’d be surprised at the trade you would get!

    I suppose at the end of the day we could argue between ourselves but the fact remains- we both want to survive in this industry. It’s going to take a lot more than opinions to change that. Throwing internet bans at people wont change it either (as some people think). We need to get this publicly debated and quick. I believe bit-torrents and buying music can co-exist but we need it discussed out in the open or this will go round in circles for ever!

    Good luck for the future!

  5. Hey Russ, I honestly wish you the best of fortune with your journey. But once again, my very basic question has yet to be answered. How do you compete with free? I’m not talking about the new paradigm, and I’m very well aware of what decade it is. I’m aware of social media networking and I’m quite happy that the majors have all but rendered themselves useless. If this non-defined “new business model of not making any money” on recorded music” continues, who’ll be left to record it? I’ll answer my own question: Artists. And what are the recordings going to sound like? Demos. And what won’t they do? Sell. Why? Because they’ll sound like demos. And if recordings are nothing more than business cards, you’re resigning to trying to sell a pretty lousy product. “He, listen to my new record!”….”Uh, dude, it’ sounds kinda like a..I dunno…a demo? I’m gonna pay to see you.” Branding yourself is crucial. So I guess you’re going to be content to branding yourself as a semi-pro whose mediocre recording is an accurate representation your craft. Lemme know how this works out for you.
    I’ve been involved in making records for some time and will continue to do so for a long time. But there are plenty of really talented people out there who can no longer afford to work for next to nothing. It strikes me as strange that you really don’t seem to care about records, because if you did, you certainly wouldn’t want a half-baked producer/studio/engineer working on your dream. I guess my final question is are you content with mediocrity? Or is that the “new” way?

  6. russvale

    @Tim Latham, I’m a musician myself and currently studying music marketing at college. My band gives away our music for free and encourages file sharing. Our music has reached far-away shores that would have been impossible otherwise, and our live audience has grown considerably. AND they’re willing to pay entrance fees.

    @Guest, itunes requires a credit card. I know people who cannot buy from itunes because they have to use their parent’s credit or debit cards. This is losing a huge market of fans who are under 16.

    The whole point is that more and more artists like myself are going independent. The result is that the artist has more connectivity and involvement with fans. Let’s face it, are albums really worth what we pay for them? I wouldn’t dream of charging a tenner for a few bits of plastic and a shoddy inlay as is the case with today’s big name music stars. Now, of course all this means more hard work for the band and less money. But this is 2010 not 1970. Musicians can’t afford to be aloof any more. The industry as we know it is dead. The internet changed every industry for better or worse and you either change with it or sink. The music industry has been clinging on to a lost cause and it’s up to the artists and fans to lead us into the next generation of music consumerism if the labels refuse to change. Don’t get me wrong I miss the days of going into Our Price and buying a single on CD for a pound, but it’s history.

    I recommend doing some research on Trent Reznor, frontman for the rock band Nine Inch Nails. His marketing idea was a spark of genius and he made more money on one record than he did in the previous releases.

    An earlier comment said that merchandise is just a promotion tool. What is an album then? Everything an artist gives away or sells is promotion, and there is more money in merchandise than in CDs!

    Ed O’Brien is absolutely right. And you’ll find that most new musicians of today’s generation are feeling the same. It’s time to take things in a new direction. Bit Torrent is not going to go away. File-sharing is not going to go away. Ever since the first recordable cassette came out the industry has been moaning. Their monopoly has come to an end. Artists cannot rely on them to get their music out and fans can’t trust them to give them value for money.

    It’s time to start thinking outside the box!

  7. Uh Nate, can you please explain in one short sentence what on earth “adjust and evolve” means vis a vis free music? And what money goes to what studios? No one in their right mind would invest any amount of money into a product or service that will without question be stolen. Zero ROI = zero investment in any product. Crappy, overpriced products were held up as justification for stealing music, which lead to exponentially lower sales. Which in turn exponentially lowered the amount anyone would spend on their project. Which = exponentially less talented producers and engineers making the records which brings us to an ever crappier product. Great. Which renders music even more disposable. Point being, free has destroyed recorded music. And if you can, please for the love of God, explain how the eff this “new business model” will aid an artist in competing with free? RIAA and NARAS should be spending millions on advertising explaining to the thieves what the wrecking ball effect that file stealing has had to the thousands of real live professionals and their families who are trying making a living making records. Until there is a cultural shift away from stealing, music will continue to render itself further into obscurity.

  8. Ed’s right, sorry guest.

    First, free music has completely changed the rules. Struggle as they might to hang on to the old model, any money from albums is now a bonus. Accept this and get what you can for it. Forget about supporting your band with album sales, your doing well if your album sales cover the cost of making the cd. And kids don’t have credit cards, and can’t/wont drive to get pre-paid cards. Not when free is an option. Just accept they’ll never buy music again (at least when they’re ages 14-17) because these are the new rules. The sooner you realize this the sooner you can adjust and evolve.

    Why not follow the radiohead lead? Give your music out for free, and accept donations (if people like your music and support you, they’ll donate, if they don’t they would have probably gotten your music for free elsewhere anyway). If you’re playing by the new rules, you know you can’t expect money for songs. In the digital music age, there’s a different kind of currency. It’s information. Whether it be signing up for your mailing list (collecting emails to build your list), or whatever you decide, information is the new cost of doing business. It’s the only thing you can honestly expect anymore.

    The point? for most the goal is build interest, but get them to your shows. That’s where things shift from the complex and confusing digital music age back to simple business. The more people that come to your shows, the more you will make. That’s where you support you band, regardless of the rules of the digital music age. You think any major band makes money from album sales? Not a chance. They take a small amount upfront to create the album, maybe get a tiny residual, and the rest goes to the studio. They then go on tour and promote the new album and make the real money from the shows.

    And I don’t care what level your at, merch sales are nothing more then marketing your band. It might give you a little spending money, but it’s a bonus for the advertising.

  9. This guy has his head in the sand. You can already buy tracks super cheap in a sexy environment – it’s called iTunes and they have massive brand awareness. Or jump on Amazon, less sexy but cheaper, new albums for $5, some even for $3. How much cheaper do you want it?? And you don’t need a credit card to buy on iTunes, you can walk into a Wal-Mart or hundreds of thousands of other locations across the country and buy a pre-paid card for cash. Music industry may have been slow but the structure has been there longer than many people want to admit, it’s just music lovers won’t part with their cash if they can get it for free. Why would they? Merch sales are great if you’re in the cotton industry or built your brand in the “old” business model, but if a young developing singer thinks 20 t-shirts a night profit will cover more than their petrol bill as they tour the country are dreaming. And let’s be frank, these guys are the ones that need the industry more than anyone, U2, Radiohead and the like are doing just fine, ask Ed O’Brien!