Radiohead is one of the greatest, most respected – but still underrated – bands of our generation. My good friend once referred to them as the Beatles of our musical age. Their music is evolutionary and tests the limits of what we considered music to be. However, this is a technology column, so you might wonder why I’m talking about a British rock group. I will try and explain.
In the current information age highlighted by the exponential growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web, many traditional media platforms are on the brink of evolution – or extinction. One of these technological mediums is the compact disc. While CDs still account for the majority of music sales, digital downloads of music – legal or illegal – are slowly becoming the new paradigm. This scares the shit out of the greedy music industry, which consists of only four companies controlling a major chunk of published music.
To counteract illegal downloading of music files – or piracy – the group has implemented a technology known as Digital Rights Management. For more information refer to my previous column: “Old, Young Disagree in DRM Debate,” Daily Nexus April 10, 2007. DRM is a very annoying piece of technology that ultimately restricts the music we can purchase legally. In the case of music purchased from the iTunes Store, this means it cannot be played anywhere other than the iPod or iPhone. DRM is the wrong way to protect against piracy because it hurts those of us who would not illegally file-share. Trust me, people are different outside of college life.
Last spring, one of the major record labels, EMI, announced a partnership with the biggest online digital music store, iTunes, to bring DRM-free music to the masses. Other companies have also begun to offer DRM-free music purchases, most notably and recently, the Amazon.com music store, which works with iTunes. However, the fact remains other music labels are still reluctant to get rid of DRM – they hold a philosophy that people are, by nature, evil. With the major record labels owning most of the popular music today, even artists that wish for DRM-free music are held back by contract.
However, Radiohead is no longer under any contract and owns all rights to its music. With this in mind, the band’s newest album release in over four years, In Rainbows, has just been released. But the band’s seventh studio album release was different than any that came before it. Radiohead decided to let its fans choose how much to pay for the digital download version of the album. Yes, you heard me correctly: You, the listener, can choose how much Radiohead’s music is worth.
I have to admit I paid zero pounds for the album, and received the download last Tuesday night. But I wanted to listen to their album first. Then, if I liked it, I would go back to the site: www.inrainbows.com, and pay what I thought it was worth. And as I now listen to the album while writing this column, I have to say that I LOVE it, and keeping my word, I have gone back to the site to pay seven pounds, which is just under $15.
On a side note, hardcore fans of the band will be pleased to hear that In Rainbows is also available in a $80+ physical version, known as the Discbox edition, which includes the album, digital download, and a limited edition vinyl. Furthermore, the band has announced that a CD version of the album should hit traditional distribution channels later next year.
This is an incredible and interesting way to distribute and sell music. And hopefully this act of bravery will turn some heads in the industry. So please, if you are planning on downloading the new album, be honest about paying the band what its new album is worth. Don’t be the person who thinks they are special and can just take it for free. The point of this experiment is to show the industry that, when given free choice, people are good and are willing to pay for a legal version of the music. In my opinion, honesty will be a major factor in shaping the future of the Internet.