A year ago today, Internet music fans all around the world received their download codes for Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which the band released via low-quality MP3s a mere 10 days after announcing that it had been completed. (The CD release, and the remix-contest-powered pop “hit,” and the many many blog posts about the genius of Yorke, Greenwood, and the rest of the gang, came later.) Come with me as I look back at the events that have happened since then, ones that were both directly precipitated by In Rainbows‘ release strategy and coincidental to it.
• Trent Reznor took Thom Yorke’s idea and ran with it. The Saul Williams experiment was his first foray into the “varied formats at varied prices” realm, but things really took off when Reznor started releasing his own material–Ghosts I-IV, and then The Slip–on his own terms, through his own Web sites. If anything, I’d refer to these new digital-heavy, price-optional distribution models as “the Nine Inch Nails model,” since Trent really perfected the form after Radiohead’s (and Stars‘) initial forays into the digital rush-release world.
• Other acts with substantial fanbases decided that they could probably experiment with release dates and pricing, too. David Byrne and Brian Eno, Tori Amos, Weird Al … of course, these are all artists who built their fanbases while working in the major-label salt mines. But in a way, helped the idea of release date as “event” return, if only because of the sheer number of people who knew the names of these artists.
• The “free preview” ideal became de rigeur for many major-label acts… They may not be distributing low-bitrate copies of entire albums as part of their promotional run-up, but when freaking Nickelback is (and breaking the six-figure mark in sales of that song anyway) you know the idea has percolated into the mainstream.
• … and the majors moved to MP3s. Sure, this is probably more a function of Wal-Mart behaving like the two-ton gorilla that it is when it announced that it was moving to an all-MP3 store, but still, it was pretty significant as far as allowing digital-music consumers to stop asking why their file of “Bitch” that they’d purchased a few years back had suddenly become unavailable.
• The phrase “the Radiohead model” was misused approximately 10,000,00 times by lazy journalists. Sigh.
• The record? Pretty good, once the endless hype about how it was released died down. Seriously. (Although I didn’t spend enough time with the second disc of the box at all.)
This is obviously an incomplete list, so feel free to add–or subtract!–from it as you see fit in comments.