What Did You Pay for that Radiohead Download?

by Stephen Tringali

There’s a new game in cyberspace today: the how-much-did-you-pay game.

In this case, the game is centered around Radiohead, one of the biggest bands in the world, and their new release In Rainbows.

For those who aren’t rabid fans of Radiohead (and who might that be?) the band released its latest album over the internet last week, without the help of a record company.

“[We released the album online] partly to get it out quickly, so everyone would hear it at the same time, and partly because it was an experiment that felt worth trying, really,” Radiohead’s lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood told Rolling Stone.

Many a critic will proudly tell you how much he or she paid for the album. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield paid $5.27 in respect of his mother’s birthday, and some critic at Pitchfork paid eight bucks for hers (writer Amy Phillips).

“It’s fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think what music is worth,” Greenwood told Rolling Stone. “And that’s just an interesting question to ask people.”

Well, I paid nothing for it, Jonny. Not because I think music is worthless, but because I’m a poor-ass college student.

Whether you paid what I did for the new Radiohead or whether you paid 1,000 bucks for it (the album comes with a price limit, actually; it’s $205.61), you can’t deny that something in your brain didn’t pause for a moment and consider this new distribution method. Will this become the happy medium between music piracy and music purchasing? Or is this a ploy that will only work with a band like Radiohead, which has a mystique and cult following that are second to none in the alt-rock world.

Following the example of Radiohead, a couple of big-shot artists seem convinced that leaving their record labels is now the best idea. Trent Reznor announced that Nine Inch Nails has departed from its label, Interscope. And Madonna, though not about to start giving her albums out for free, dumped her record label, Warner Brothers, in favor of signing a $120 million contract with concert promoter Live Nation.

It seems as though there is a rift in the music industry that will only continue to widen. The do-it-yourselfers and the artistically viable will release their music through more subversive outlets, while the giants and the sell-outs will sign bigger contracts and hold more exclusive rights.

(Editor's Note: After a six-week hiatus, we welcome Stephen Tringali back to the blog.)

(Photo of Radiohead's frontman Thom Yorke and drummer Phil Selway from 2006 by timothycochrane.com of London via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see Radiohead play a live version of "Reckoner" from In Rainbows, please check below.)

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Rick Rockwell said...

I paid £4 for mine. But Steve, if I had known you were strapped for cash, I'd have paid more.

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