No. 46: Gnarls Barkley And The Raconteurs Race Each Other To The Record Store
Radiohead’s “gotcha!” release of In Rainbows last year had something of a ripple effect on artists who also appeal to that band’s tech-savvy, sorta-into-paying-for-music fanbase. Jack White’s other band, The Raconteurs, played with the idea of bringing back the “event record” by shortening the period between announcement and release first, when they announced that their second album Consolers Of The Lonely would be available a week following its announcement. “We wanted to get this record to fans, the press, radio, etc., all at the EXACT SAME TIME so that no one has an upper hand on anyone else regarding it’s availability, reception or perception,” the [sic]-ly release said. Of course, this didn’t stop the damn thing from leaking anyway. (And it was all iTunes’ fault!)
Less than 24 hours later, Gnarls Barkley announced that it was doing a rush-release of its own, putting The Odd Couple out early in an effort to stem a leak that sprung two weeks before release date. The motvating factors for the accelerated production schedule were different—the press release for the Raconteurs release called out the press in part, while Gnarls’ speeded-up issuance of its album was blamed in part on March Madness—but the event was the same, i.e., making the “official” release date of a record something of an event again, at least for as long as it took the wire stories to go out.
Since then, other artists have experimented with both these strategies—from “Weird Al” rush-releasing topical singles to iTunes to artists like Q-Tip releasing the digital versions of their albums early so as to stem leaks. Whether or not these sorts of tactics will be more widespread is tough to say—saying that the music industry changes at a “glacial” pace, after all, is kind—but in today’s ever-shortened attention-span culture, the guerilla release schedule that the Raconteurs set probably makes sense to both stem leaks and remind people that an album can, in fact, be purchased, or at least paid some mind.