How Trent Reznor Nails It

Along with Radiohead (though in fact far beyond them), Trent Reznor is often held up as one of the heroes of new media music promotion. This raises the usual litany of questions: Could this work for a new band without a huge following? Is this unique to him? Is this THE FUTURE? Blah blah blah?

Would what he does work for others? Well, no, not exactly. But what he does has got some lessons in it that would if you forget the specifics and focus on the concepts. Here are three things he’s got down:

(1) He intertwines the online and the offline instead of focusing on one or the other. Past promotions have included USB sticks left in restrooms with songs he knew would be uploaded and peer-distributed and t-shirts with hidden URLs where devotees could find clues to forthcoming releases. His current schtick incorporates Google Earth to lead inquisitive fans to tickets hidden in places like drainpipes.

(2) He knows that fans experience music together and all of these strategies are designed to make fans talk to each other and do things together. Emotion is contagious and sharing these experiences makes them more exciting than they are alone. Just think about how much more you laugh aloud when you watch something funny with others.

(3) He intertwines the feelings evoked by his music with those evoked by these strategies. In the blog linked above, Mark Milian summarizes the feelings he and his friends had when they found the tickets:

As we jumped up and down, celebrating our victory, it was obvious that Reznor had accomplished his goal. Those feelings of excitement and anxiety are the same emotions he aims to put across in his music. And that could explain why fans have been so overwhelmingly receptive to such a bizarre spin on one of the oldest forms of music promotion — a ticket giveaway.

The next band to hide USB sticks in bathrooms, put codes on t-shirts, or use Google Earth to point the way to hidden tickets will be rightly seen as copycats. But the next band to figure out how to take the experience evoked by their sound and find its counterpart in a social collaboration that fans can engage online and off will be rightly hailed as brilliant.

Metallica admit some blunder, blunder anyway.

Metallica have offered a rationalization for demanding that those invited to a listening party take down the reviews of the album they wrote. Oops, just some underling’s dumb move, honest. On, they write:

While we occasionally enjoy reading the various comments, rumors, speculation, reviews, gossip and all the good that the internet brings, rarely do we feel the desire/need to respond to the “blogosphere” . . . hey, everyone is entitled to have their thoughts and opinions, right? However, once we re-surfaced on Tuesday after a few weeks on tour in Europe, we were informed that someone at Q Prime (our managers) had made the error of asking a few publications to take down reviews of the rough mixes from the new record that were posted on their sites. Our response was “WHY?!!! Why take down mostly positive reviews of the new material and prevent people from getting psyched about the next record. . . that makes no sense to us!”” So after a few rounds of managerial ear spank and sentencing everyone at Q Prime to 20 push-ups each, we figured why not take matters into our own hands and just post the links here on our site. [boldface added]

One step forward for acknowledging the obvious (people posting positive reviews is good, not bad), but two steps backwards for doing it in a way that is all about keeping control — sure you can write your reviews, but people have to come to our site to read them. One commenter noted in response to the coverage on Drowned In Sound:

Or it was a really clever way of having all the good reviews

on one place on their own website, which would be read by many more metallica fans than would read all those sites combined.

I am not sure their own site would really get more hits than all the others combined, but even were this so, it would be so much better to say: “We are contacting everyone who received this misguided take down notice and encouraging them to repost their reviews. We will be linking to them from this page, if we miss yours, let us know so we can add it.”

Their goal should be to foster discussion of the band everywhere they can, including but never limited to, their own site. Centralization is dead.

Burnt Bridges

The Calgary Herald offers an interesting take on Metallica’s “Mission: Metallica” online program:

Internet users have a lot of raspberries for Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who in 2000 turned in illegal downloaders, but now wants to jump on the digital bandwagon. [...] Unlike Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and a slew of indie bands (Victoria’s Jets Overhead, for one), Metallica won’t be releasing its album for free, but the step away from DRM (digital rights management) music is a massive step for them, as it makes the music easily shareable on many websites.

Too bad people are viewing the move with a jaundiced eye. After news was posted on, a slew of angry music fans posted their views about it, and they were anything but positive.

“(Expletive) Metallica,” wrote a user named me not you. “These jerkwads helped kill the original napster and They single-handedly delayed the digital music revolution by at least 4 years. They sued little kids and grannies. Now after clearly losing the fight against progress they want to suddenly join the winning side. Go to hell, Metallica.”

Another sample: “Oh I get it, now that your careers are in the (expletive), you finally wanna open up to this ‘new & hip’ digital world only NOW in 2008 after years of alienating thousands of your fans by suing the pants off them & treating them like criminals for spreading your music. Too little too late.”

And my favourite: “You wanted me to pick between mp3s and metallica? i did. you lost.”

What’s to be added? Ethan Kaplan spoke at the Mesh conference about the challenge a band like REM has in using the internet in exciting ways without seeming like they’re trying to co-opt youth. Well, their challenges are nothings next to Metallica’s. REM may have been slow to come around to the digital revolution, but at least they always turned a willfully blind eye to bootleg trading. All I can say if Metallica fans don’t all appreciate their conversion is ha ha ha. Though it’s good, I guess, to see the dinosaurs trying to get hip before going extinct.

10 Best Practices of Online Music Promotion

Get your music streaming : If you want people to get into your music, they need to be able to hear it. Get your entire catalogue up at, load those songs on MySpace, make sure iMeem and iLike have your tunes, find out what services people are using in the regions you want to be heard and make sure those people have easy free access to your catalog. No one’s going to fall in love with thirty second tidbits, and if you’ve got a great song, people will want to know if the rest of your stuff is as good. Let them listen.

Use your own domain : Seems like a wee bit of a no-brainer, but I am always amazed how many bands use MySpace as their primary website. You don’t own MySpace. Why let MySpace own you?

Distribute your presence : You can’t be everywhere your potential audience is, but you can be a lot of places. Everyone needs their own website (more below), but don’t stop there. Among the possibilities? Every band has to be on MySpace unless they’re rebels, but don’t forget putting together your own YouTube channel, getting and using a Facebook fan page, signing up for ReverbNation and using their widgets, Twittering, posting pictures to Flickr … sure you don’t want to do all that stuff, but do some of it, and do more than one of it.

Integrate your presence : Your website should have links to all the other places you can be found online. Fans should be able to move seamlessly from one of your spots on the web to another and shouldn’t have to visit multiple sites to figure out what’s up with you. If you’ve got important news, get it up everywhere you are. I recently had to go to a MySpace page to see tour dates for a band who had not posted them on their own website — you know, the link they put on all the CD inserts. If your music is streaming somewhere that has a widget to put it elsewhere, put that widget everywhere you’ve got a presence.

Give some of your music away : Nothing creates addiction like being able to hear a song on your own machine whenever you want. You don’t have to give it all away (though that seems to be working for some), but at least let people download a few songs on your website, MySpace,, and elsewhere. Giving music away also creates good relations with fans — people like it when you give them things. It makes them more likely to do things for you like, um, pay for the rest of your songs.

Get to know the mp3 bloggers : If you don’t already know which blogs cover music like yours, check out HypeMachine and other mp3 aggregaters to figure out where bands like you get discussed. Read the blogs, learn their interests. Write them a nice brief personal note telling them why you think they’ll like you and send them an easy link to an mp3 you think they and their readers would like.

Build an interpersonal relationship with your audience : Like I said about giving music away – when people can distribute your music amongst themselves through peer-to-peer trading, there’s no incentive for them to pay for your music unless they feel a sense of personal obligation to you. Nothing creates personal obligation like warm feelings of friendship. If your fans feel that you think of and care for them, they will be more willing to take care of you.

Reach out but don’t spam : It’s ok to recommend yourself to individuals on social networking sites IF you have really good reason to think they’re going to like you and communicate that to them. If anyone’s ever indicated an interest in you before, it’s wonderful to contact them again when you’ve got new music to share. It is NOT okay to blast yourself onto strangers’ walls and shoutboxes, send random friends requests, and otherwise be pushy. And even when you know you’re talking to the converted (like people who follow you on Twitter) remember that even the most dedicated fans do not need to know what you are doing every hour. A little mystique is okay. Really.

Encourage fan contributions : How can you let your music provide an opportunity for fan creativity? One independent musician who writes instrumental music told me he puts up demos and asks for help choosing names for the songs. Many artists have encouraged fan videos or remixes. There is a place for your fans to play with your music using their own talents. Give it to them. And let them have their own communities and do their own fan thing in there without the interference of you or your legal team.

Give fans promotional tools : As I wrote about in my last post, spreadable is the new viral. People who love you want to tell others about you. Create widgets they can embed on their own pages (again, ReverbNation has a great one but it’s not the only one), create ecards for your music, give them mp3s they can post without fear of lawsuits. Whatever it is that you want others to know, give it to your audience in a form they can easily pass along to others.

You got other ideas? Please post them in the comments below.

Coldplay vs. Judas Priest -or- The Benefits of Widgets

Last week, Coldplay made their new single “Violet Hill” available free for one week (one week? lame) for download from their official website. tracked its listens and what a lot of them there were:

10,000 times in the 5 hours since the track was released. That’s 1 play every 2 seconds. Apparently the last time a track was listened to this intensively on Last.fFM was ‘15 Step’ from Radiohead’s free In Rainbows album, which clocked up close to 22,000 listens in 12 hours.

Not to be outdone, the somewhat-less-popular these days Judas Priest took another route to the release of their new single, “Nostradamus”, via ReverbNation widget (for more about what I think is the coolest widget out there for bands, read this).

According to ReverbNation COO Jed Carlson, they initially placed the widget that streams their song on 4 sites, but since the widget can be grabbed by fans and embedded wherever they want, it spread rapidly to more than 500 websites.

Everytime a song is streamed through a ReverbNation widget, they get tracking information back. The result? According to ReverbNation:

The track was streamed once every two seconds during the first 24-hour period. Fans who listened or received the download were directed to the Judas Priest website where they could pre-order the album, scheduled for release on June 17th.

Color me naive, but when a Judas Priest single can get as much play as a Coldplay single without the media going nuts over a Hot Big Mega Band Being Creative And Wow with the internet buzz, I’m impressed. What I love, to no one’s surprise, is that most of the places where people were able to stream the song were places it had been placed BY FANS WHO WANTED TO SPREAD IT. Henry Jenkins talks about “spreadable media” (a topic I’ll be hearing more about at the Convergence Culture Consortium retreat over the next few days). This is a great example of how it works.

Now I want to see Rob Halford face off against Chris Martin. Oh, Rob’s not in the band anymore? Nevermind then.