A Bold Step for the Music Industry

Melissa Marshall


This October, Radiohead released their sprawling new album In Rainbows. However, critical attention was less on the discography and more on the distribution method. The digital deities from London not only manipulated electronic rhythms to produce the most inventive music of our generation, but also turned technology — and the record industry — on its head by making their album available as a download only, all at your own price. That’s right: you name the price and then click “download.”

Whether it’s an odd psychological experiment or admirable philanthropy, I still haven’t decided. But this bold move did more than just give a finger to the corporate middleman, placing the power back into the artist’s, and subsequently, listener’s hands — it has also brought attention to the pretentious and unanswerable debate of what art is, who has the right to define it and who has the right to prescribe its worth.

It is a certainty that their distribution tactics will reverberate in the industry for decades, if not change the face of it completely. Already Saul Williams, Nine Inch Nails and Oasis have slated “download only” releases. And herein lies the beauty of their economic upheaval: maybe college students don’t have the right to place a price on art, but conglomerated record industries certainly don’t either. At least Radiohead has now given their distribution techniques the same individuality that their music reflects.

But on the other side of the proverbial coin, do we sacrifice a bit of our humanity for this individualism? As a gigabyte generation, we are becoming more and more isolated. Look at the birth of the iPod: most of us walk around campus with the omnipresent earbuds shoved into either side of our head, completely oblivious to passing classmates. Where once we would go to a local record store, we now turn towards synthetic cybershops to get our cuts. I yearn for the nostalgia of the High Fidelity-esque hole-in-a-wall dive that smelled like Springsteen and played like the Pixies— the fading posters on the walls symbolizing a time when rock n’roll was still rock n’roll.

Still, we have to keep in mind that not all musicians have the luxury or lifestyle to do “name your own price” releases. Despite all the anarchist idealists out there, tambourine men still need their daily bread. And maybe Radiohead are idealists as well, foolish for thinking that people will pay for something that they can easily get for free. I don’t really know— but I still like to believe in the inherent goodness of mankind. That and affordable music. I can definitely believe in affordable music.


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