Radiohead=Buzz of the Week

So blink and you’re behind the times. Radiohead have surprised us all and done something that isn’t boring announced that not only is their new surprise record coming out IN A FEW DAYS, it will be self-released, and — here’s the buzzworthy part — if you choose to buy the download vs. tangible version, you can set your own price. Anything from nothing to … however much it’s worth to you.

This will be a fascinating experiment to watch, and I hope that they will be forthcoming with data on how many people paid how much and how their take compares to their major label releases. My conjecture has been that given trust, loving, and relationship-building from the band, fans will voluntarily pay back to the extent they are able (click on the link for a theoretical explanation of why). Whether this works when a band is perceived as rich superstars will be a great test.

Major kudos to them for risking it. Color me impressed. Rainbows of impressed.

Update: Lots of intelligent and wide-ranging comments on this here.

Indie Labels on Sharing, Streaming and Giving It Away

I’ve been interviewing people involved in the Swedish indie music scene these last few months. Today I thought I’d dive into them a little and share a few quotes from people running labels that I think represent a real shift in the way indies are doing business as well as how they differ from the major labels. I’m not going to identify the interviewees because I didn’t get their permission to quote them by name for this purpose, and I’m not sure it matters that much right now.

First, though some are making money on CD sales, they don’t seem to expect to and have other ideas about where the money is going to be made: live music, clubs, and sponsorship. They are high on giving their music away, or at least the singles. Says one label guy:

As a label, simple things like giving away every single as an MP3 helps a lot. If you’re a small label you have nothing to lose by spreading your music. Having a record label isn’t the best way of making money anyway… but coming from a very indie background, most 7″ singles I bought when I was younger sold 500 copies or less. Albums around 1,000 perhaps, I’m sometimes surprised the music we release sells as well as it does. [...] There are a lot of records stores closing down. But the ones closing down are the ones which aren’t niche-stores. And there’s an increase in venues to play and clubs I think. Everyone has their own club nowadays. Having your own fashion brand or starting a club is the new starting a band.

And another:

I’m giving up on selling CDs, but we’re making CDs and trying to get them on elsewhere, we can’t make money from selling them. I’m trying to figure out different ways to earn money and get artists to be professional musicians: Setting up clubs, trying to get people who have money to pay for the music. Like companies pay for using your music because then you can rip some fuckers with money off, like sponsorships. I have nothing against that. If the sponsorship thing is good and you feel like both parties are winning on it. Companies realize they can’t get their logo on everything.

I was particularly interested in how a third label person articulated what I see as a major theme in my interviews, the use of free music to create not just a buzz about your band, but a cultural scene around your kind of music. One could argue this has always been the case with indie music, and certainly the scene has always been important, but where the scene used to be built primarily through touring, it now can be built through file sharing, and that seems new:

If we didn’t put out mp3s, we wouldn’t get the attention we need, so it can only be positive. I view file sharing as a positive. It’s affecting the culture, listeners who are into our kind of music, they are more music fans than the general listener. That kind of person has increased in number over the last 5-6 years. In Stockholm now there are tons of clubs that play our kind of music. It’s 100% file sharing and the internet that we have to thank. All people involved in indie music have known that if we could only get exposure we’d be huge. The majors had marketing and budgets, but the internet made it easy for the independents.

He goes on to talk about the importance of active online fans and mp3 bloggers:

It’s a big thing. A lot of our fans share common values with the whole file sharing, the culture benefits. It’s a very important factor, it translates some kind of interest that we share a common value — shared music taste, discontent with the dominant major labels. mp3 bloggers are important in the development of mp3 culture. In the beginning there weren’t many mp3 blogs, it had very big impact if we put up our own site because everyone would go to the site. Nowadays mp3 blogs have taken that place. The label isn’t enough of a filter anymore. It’s great for us. If a big mp3 blog puts up a track by one of our artists it gives it credibility. It makes it easier for people to like it and accept the music.

Says the first label guy quoted above:

Hopefully, MP3s, MySpace, internet, blogs and all that changes things so that we more and more have to put our trust in people’s good taste in music (and our way of of presenting our music I suppose) rather than big muscle marketing.

Some key words in there: trust & common values. No wonder I like these guys :)

Oh, the folly of the NFL

Robert Kozinets, who covers brands, marketing, and technoculture on his blog Brandthroposophy has a blog entry called What Does DRM Really Stand For? Whack-a-Mole! in which he says this:

Entertainment executives (most of them, anyways) are still swimming against the tide or hiding their heads in the sand. They’re protecting and locking their properties up. But they can’t win. They are going against the collective intelligence of the crowd, and defying communal imagination and motivation. Even after all these year, entertainment companies haven’t even come close to getting it. When they do, they’ll learn to work with the trends and not against them. That’s going to be an interesting day.

I was interviewed a few days ago by a journalist who is writing about the NFL’s new restrictions on the use of video — people are now only allowed to post 45 seconds of NFL footage, with a link back to, and they can only have it up for 24 hours. More justifiably, they’re not allowed to put ads around NFL footage. My response was very much what Kozinets says here. The strategy, I’m sure, is to drive traffic to and to monopolize the message. Even if they succeed in increasing the traffic, they are not going to be able to control the message, and it’s not in their own interest to do so.

Apparently they acknowledge off the record that they are not going to actually be able to stop people from posting longer footage and keeping it up longer. Whack-a-mole.

Fans are creative folks. They will find new places to put things up. They will put up themselves what has been taken down elsewhere as many times as they need to in order to keep their discussion going.

But more importantly, NFL’s revenue stream comes from many places, including, for instance, lots and lots of sales of goods with team logos. Why do people buy those things? Because they identify with the teams. Even if message-control were possible, nothing that stifles and boxes in discussion is going to enhance identification. If the NFL wants to make more money, they should be “working with the trends and not against them” by enabling fan discussion whenever and wherever fans want to have it.

Furthermore, this really annoys the media since news and other sports sites are included in these new regulations, not just fan sites. Ultimately, the price in making your fans and news venues ticked off and making it harder for them to get into discussion about the games can’t possibly be worth any modest increases in page views they may accrue.

Despite the RIAA’s aggressive filing of lawsuits, illegal downloading has increased since they started doing it. I suspect that many people feel even more righteous in the practice since they now have such good reason to view the RIAA as unethical enemies. Does the NFL really want to be the RIAA of athletics? Yikes.

Usher Takes Well-Deserved Heat

One of the parts of online fandom that’s sometimes hard for stars to deal with is that sometimes your fans don’t love all your decisions. That’s apparently been the case with Usher fans who, as I understand it, aren’t thrilled with his choice of fiancée. Ok. Whatever. But here’s where it gets interesting.

There’s a fansite called UsherForever. Just stop and think about that title for a second. UsherForever. Could be a group for people who had been ushers at some theatre sometime? “Usher” is not just a name, it’s a word. But anyway. So this fan site’s been going strong for a while, its clearly a slick labor of love by an Usher fan. But when she dared criticize, Usher and the lawyers moved in:

Imagine if someone was happy to work, without reward, building a massive shrine to you and your work. You might be happy to think of all this promotion going on, not costing you a cent.But what if that person then disagreed with you – perhaps pointing out that you were making a bit of a fool of yourself?

It would probably be wise to take advice like that as well-meaning, even if you chose to ignore it.

Not so Usher: After fansite called his open letter to bloggers “petty”, Usher then got pettier, sending a legal demand that the site’s URL be transfered over to his record label.

Even guilty-pleasure site took a break from Lindsey, Britney, and Paris to write a post headlined “Usher F**ks With The Wrong Fan” :

Erika Jackson, webmaster of, tells TMZ that she’s been hit with a full-scale legal blitz from a tag-team of both Usher’s personal lawyer and his label’s lawyers, and claims that the trouble started earlier this year when she refused to turn her site — the self-proclaimed “biggest Usher site” on the Internet — into a sanitized official site. (The legal threats were first reported by the New York Daily News.)

The comments on TMZ are well worth a quick browse and it’s not pretty for Usher. Some excerpts:

Usher is going to lose his fan base if he doesn’t stop this foolishness. So what if people don’t like your fiance!!! The sun’s not going to stop rising and shining because people don’t like Tameka; your world isn’t going to come to an end!!! Geez!!!

He’s going to lose many of his fans over this. What he is doing is career suicide.

…ha ha! usher’s an idiot! nice going, mr. invincible! way to bite the hand that’s feeding you!. know what? there are already too many fish in the pond, too many ushers waiting in line to take your job. bye bye!…

Now there are a few who say that Jackson is using his name to make money (she has ads on the site) and he’s got the legal right to the domain, but I’m looking forward to seeing this play out in court, if it ever really gets there. She is providing something he’s not — a place for his fans to congregate. His music may be copyrighted, but I don’t think that being his fan is something he can copyright. (I’m curious if any lawyers reading think there’s a shred of legal turf for him to stand on, my guess is NO).

In either case, if you want a sanitized site, make your own. Fans get to say what fans want to say. Ha ha.

Gushes beat leaks

Musicians and fans are so far ahead of the labels on “piracy” and DRM that increasingly one wonders whether ultimately either will have much use for labels at all. The Register has a short story up about Blur drummer Dave Rowntree, who argues that the labels should have known they’d lost the battle in 1997:

“If you turn back the clock when all this stuff was still on the horizon, the key realisation to have made was that we had lost the war already,” Rowntree told OUT-LAW Radio, the weekly technology law podcast. “That’s what I was going round telling everybody 10 years ago, saying ‘the horse has bolted, there’s no way of undoing what has been done already, the only thing you can do is to try and turn your business around so that you turn this into a plus rather than a minus’.”

Rowntree advises digital rights advocacy group the Open Rights Group and has been a vocal opponent of the mainstream record industry’s policies of chasing individual file sharers. When told that the last Blur album was leaked on to the internet he reportedly said “I’d rather it gushed”.

Rowntree said that the major labels’ policies of putting digital rights management (DRM) technology on music CDs to attempt to stop them being copied and shared backfired spectacularly.

“I’d rather it gushed.” I love it! He’s got some other points characterizing the people who “pirate” that are worth reading. The RIAA and its cohorts can sue until hiring lawyers eats every bit of gross income they’ve got and people are still going to rip and exchange music. Some things can’t go backwards.

I am not sure I like this whole idea gaining increasing currency that the new business model for music has to be advertising. I’m not clear on where these ads are supposed to be, but I’m pretty sure I’d rather pay money than have my music packaged with ads.

I’d like to see a model where somehow the fans channeled money right to the musicians, who could pay labels for any services they needed. Reverse the hierarchy so the labels work for the bands instead of the bands being horses in the label’s stables.