Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And you may ask yourself / Well...How did I get here?

A lifetime ago David Byrne and Brian Eno released My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Not only was it an addictively entrancing record, it was also a musical milestone.

Its use of samples and loops was absolutely revolutionary. Sure samples had been used before but never in such a core way that it was the essence of the released recording. It quite literally opened the floodgates for a raft of innovations and pointed the way towards new roads up which thousands have trod and continue to do so almost thirty years after it was recorded.

It was one of those records...

In 2007 they reissued the album and, taking the concept one step further, encouraged others to use parts of a couple of tracks and remix them and no cost.

That concept was later picked up by the likes of Radiohead who encouraged, or allowed remixes of tracks from their last album. That album was the subject of a major flurry last year when it was, famously or notoriously, depending on where you came from, essentially offered for sale at the price you wanted to nominate, including free. Then it was later commercially released.

The, how shall we say, more traditional, arms of the recording industry took some pleasure in saying the experiment had flopped, pointing to the percentage who paid nothing, or, more recently to the numbers who, despite the offer at the band’s site, look it from P2p or Torrent sites.

All that of course rather missed the point, that being, that from Radiohead’s point of view, which really was the only one that mattered, it was a roaring, profile increasing, money making, chart topping and stadium filling success. It took them as a brand and a ban to a new level. And the recent round of publicity only added to the simple fact that they are more current now than they would ever have been if they’d resigned to EMI..a Google news search got almost 5000 hits…just on the current Radiohead news..

The analysis of the RH figures came from, predictably, the chief economist of the UK collection agency, PRS, who was unable to see the proverbial wood for the trees in his joy to release the download figures. Part, just a small part, mind you, of which was that overall numbers downloaded dwarf recent Radiohead sales, and thus the album is in that many more homes, which I’d imagine any band or manager would reasonably be happy about.

But Byrne and Eno have taken the concept one step further, as you only could in these broadband times. Their new album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, was released online yesterday, via a dedicated site which will allow you to listen to their album forever free, as long as you stream it or download a widget from either their site or via developer Topspin Media. That widget is below.

And then, having listened to the album all day (as I have), which, as an aside is quite spookily lovely..far more so than I expected, since I’ve not been a Byrne fan in recent years…I’m able to continue doing so day after day, or I can buy it in a variety of formats, hard and digital, or a mix, including lossless FLAC.

It’s hard to see how they could offer more to the consumer…how the consumer could be made to feel better about the artist and the record. And how the artist, who gets the bulk of whatever is paid for copies sold, not just a small royalty against recoupment (less packaging deductions, and a new technology deduction etc blah blah blah), could do better. It’s a mighty mighty win-win…even if 95% of folks never go beyond the stream

And the simple fact is that it’s getting harder and harder, for acts like this and many others, to see what a proper record company could add to the mix anymore, as they furry around trying to rewrite the traditional deals.

Is there anything less artist friendly than a 360 deal?

I said once before that we are at the beginning of the tip of the start of the germ of this digital delivery model, and that, as I believe, the iTunes road might eventually turn into a dead end as a wider network of search and delivery, perhaps out of the hands of huge corporations like Apple, takes hold. Especially as there is so much drive to innovate.

To quote TopSpin co-founder, Ian Rogers:

And I don’t think it’s controversial to say software will play a role in the future of music marketing. Artists, managers, and labels alike will use some sort of software to help them manage direct relationships with fans, find new listeners, measure the success of their business, pay licenses and royalties, etc.

Things like Everything That Happens Will Happen Today are a clear pointer that way.

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