(This unedited article was written for the Ebbtide student newspaper at Shoreline Community College)
Radiohead has once again captured the attention of the music world with their new album “In Rainbows.”
In Rainbows was announced October 1 on their website Dead Air Space (radiohead.com/deadairspace) with this simple message from Jonny Greenwood, one of Radiohead’s guitarists, “Hello everyone. Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days; We’ve called it In Rainbows. Love from us all. Jonny” with a link leading to inrainbows.com.
The album is creating massive ripples in the music industry, prompting news outlets such as Time, the Telegraph, NPR, Rolling Stone and NME to ask a simple question:
Did Radiohead manage to kill the concept of the record label?
The discussion over the album has nothing to do with the content of the music, incidentally. It has to do with the way in which it is marketed and distributed. Specifically, they are not on any record label since their contract expired with EMI, and aren’t selling their album through a distributor such as Apple’s iTunes.
It is at the In Rainbows website that the most stunning discovery is made. The first thing you read is, “Radiohead have made a record. So far, it is only available from this website. You can pre-order it in these formats: Discbox and Download.”
They’re not the first band to do it, but they’re certainly the largest to ever circumvent the traditional band to record label to audience distribution chain. No advance copies were given to the media. No advanced warning was even given to the fans.
And most shockingly, no price was listed for the download.
Instead, there is a little empty box with the English Pound sign next to it under the price column of your shopping cart. To aid you in your confusion as to the missing price, there’s a little question mark that leads to a page that says, “It’s up to you.” Question mark again, “No really. It’s up to you.”
According to an interview with Rolling Stone, Greenwood stated, “It’s fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth, and that’s just an interesting question to ask people.”
Radiohead is banking on the fact that honest fans will want to compensate musicians a reasonable amount of money out of appreciation for the hard work that goes into the making of an album.
That attitude is directly opposed to the attitude of the major labels insistent on suing middle-aged mothers and college frat boys for illegally downloading and sharing music online.
Will Radiohead’s strategy be a success? Have they sounded the final death knells of the major record labels already reeling from changes to the industry?
The big questions remain to be answered, and will only be proven in time. But until that time, pundits, critics, bands, labels and fans will all be watching how Radiohead’s fortunes rise or fall due to their new venture.
So how much would you pay?