Nine Inch Nails: The future of music?

February 2009

Artists, Record Labels

By Cassandra Williams, postgraduate law student at the College of Law

Nine Inch Nail’s frontman Trent Reznor is no stranger to non-traditional distribution

arrangements. He’s used alternate reality games in order to promote Year Zero working with 42 entertainment in order to give his fans a taste of life in a massively dysfunctional theocratic police state. He has also used secret scavenger hunts which resulted in fans rummaging all over LA, looking for hidden tickets to a dress rehearsal. Using real life treasure hunts as promotion has already been used by authors (Who remembers the hunt for the jewelled golden hare inMasquerade by Kit Williams?) – the most recent ‘real-life’ treasure hunt book is ‘The Secrets of the Alchemist Dar’ by Michael Stadther, where readers were invited to commence searching for more than $2 million worth of hidden jewelry.

He has also released full CDs under a “pay for it if you feel like it” arrangement. T he first volume of their album ‘Ghosts’ was put up on torrent sites, under a creative commons license. The band said about BitTorrent: “ Now that we’re no longer constrained by a record label, we’ve decided to personally upload Ghosts I, the first of the four volumes, to various torrent sites, because we believe BitTorrent is a revolutionary digital distribution method, and we believe in finding ways to utilize new technologies instead of fighting them.” In addition to PDFs of artwork and liner notes, the new albums come with full Creative Commons license arrangements that allow fans to modify, share, and remix the work at their leisure.

This, surprisingly if you listen to record companies predictions, has not lead to financial ruin. The release of the four-part instrumental album Ghosts I-IV netted the singer/songwriter/geek more than $750,000 in the first three days of its release, despite the fact fans could legally grab the music for absolutely no cost. The case is not so different for Radiohead who apparently netted over £4.8million from the album in two days despite fans being able to pay what they wished. (Scott Colothan)

Fans have responded to Reznor’s licensing arrangements in kind, launching full communities of their own such as for collecting, promoting, and releasing remixed Nine Inch Nails tracks.

Reznor also relaxed security for the ‘Lights in the Sky’ tour, allowing more than 25 fans to film concerts in order to complete a DVD project of the tour. He has just today released more than 400GB of high-definition concert footage from three shows on the “Lights in the Sky” tour, seeding these massive video files and pre-organized Final Cut Pro sequences across BitTorrent.

Nine Inch Nails have definitely proved that money can be made through file sharing and working with fans and it will be interesting to see how the music industry reacts to this.

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