By Tim Label
In the past few years, bands and musicians have turned to innovative marketing techniques as the music industry attempts to adapt to a changing climate. Recent technologies have put an increased amount of control in the consumer’s hands–and not only in the realms of file sharing and illegal downloading. Software for editing audio files is the most available it has ever been and these programs are only becoming cheaper and more powerful.
This concept is the basis for Radiohead’s online remix project, on which they are currently inviting fans to remix the track “Reckoner” from their latest album. The project began in April 2008 when their song “Nude” was made available for purchase on iTunes in five separate stems (vocals, strings, drums, etc. all as separate audio tracks) encouraging listeners to create their own remixes. The Web site radioheadremix.com was created so fans could upload their remixes or vote for whom they thought had created the best one.
The experiment was successful. Not only were more than 2,200 remixes of “Nude” uploaded in just a month, the selling of the five separate stems on iTunes arguably contributed to the song’s position on the Billboard Top 100.
Professor Scott R. Hamula of the Integrated Marketing Communications Department at Ithaca College explains, “This is a good example of what marketers refer to as consumer-generated media or user-generated content. It’s a method to involve your target market, create buzz and to introduce a viral component to your brand’s promotion strategy. I also believe that it might be an effective application of ‘mass customization’ where, instead of just buying a CD out of the rack or single track, in this case, you, the listener, get to create your own, personalized version of a song.”
Because of the success of “Nude”, the band is repeating the remix project for “Reckoner.” The distribution method has improved since “Nude”: The six stems of “Reckoner” can now be obtained for the price of one (previously they had been 99 cents each) and come with a GarageBand project file that will assemble them for you, making this remix project even more accessible than the last. This does not mean, however, that amateurs are the only ones getting involved. Browsing through the top 30 remixes on the site there were several recognizable names, even two artists (Diplo and Julianna Barwick) who get regular listens on my iTunes library.
The remix projects are not Radiohead’s first experiment with the shifting environment of digital music. In October 2007, they made a well-publicized move in releasing their album In Rainbows online before its physical release, offering fans the option of purchasing the album for whatever price they saw fit. Though admittedly risky, the experiment was a monumental success. The average price paid for the album was $8 and radiohead kept 100 percent of the profits, an arguably better take than major-label artists who can get as little as $1 on every album sold. Radiohead lead-singer Thom Yorke told Time Magazine, “…the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs [a record label]. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘Fuck you’ to this decaying business model.”
Though Radiohead may seem to be ahead of the curve with innovative release methods in the past two years, other artists have conducted similar experiments. In 2005, San Francisco experimental band Deerhoof released the four stems of their song “Rrrrrrright” online and invited fans to submit their remixes. Though a less-known band at the time, “Deermix” still received 73 submissions of remixed tracks.
More recently, a site similar to Radiohead’s remix site was created by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and went online in November 2007. In the case of both Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, the decisions were made independently of record label influence, but it is perhaps only a matter of time before labels begin proposing such ideas.
Radiohead’s unusual distribution methods may seem like something new and exciting in the music industry, but independent artists have been utilizing them for a long time. In a future where artists can reach fans and distribute their music electronically, what will record labels do? The Internet has the potential to reach more customers than any industry marketing campaign and it is no longer exclusively independent artists that are using it.
Tim Lebel is a freshman television-radio major. E-mail him at tlebel1[at]ithaca.edu.