Why have Radiohead broken copyright activists' hearts?
One or two things you didn't know about In Rainbows...
Analysis As you may have heard earlier today, Radiohead's Thom Yorke says the band won't be repeating the band's digital deal which allowed users to download a version of its most recent album for free.
"I don’t think it would have the same significance now anyway, if we chose to give something away again," he said, describing it as a "one-off response to a particular situation".
That's despite the gimmick paying off handsomely - both in promotional terms, and financially. Radiohead have done better out of this deal than many pundits suppose - and I'll explain why in a moment. So why not do it again?
The short answer: the job's done, and they don't need to. Don't be fooled by the guilt-ridden, right-on rhetoric: this is a group of canny businessmen with offshore bank accounts. And so they make hard-headed calculations, as canny businessmen should.
A crisis in the Strategy Boutique
Radiohead's commercial goal was to recapture some of the huge worldwide audience that followed OK Computer a decade ago. It took almost four years to release new material. The back-to-back follows-ups, Kid A and Amnesiac, were self-consciously experimental.
In the meantime, Radiohead-influenced bands such as Muse and Arcade Fire had captured a slice of their former audience, the epic rock seekers. Competing with these arriviste pomp-rockers was risky, as the bumpy 2004 release Hail To The Thief made clear. So a more accessible direction was a natural course for Radiohead to take.
But back in Oxford, there was a big problem.
Radiohead had an upbeat title and the sunny, warmer graphics concept all set. The trouble was, there just wasn't a lot in the creative larder: all the band had was a few familiar riffs and mannerisms. These were more appealing on the surface than the Warp-influenced albums of 2001, but there wasn't very much you could hum. Or at least, you couldn't hum it without sounding like a faulty air conditioning unit.
In addition, Radiohead's refusal to deal with a strong outside personality - they'd been friends since school - ruled out the option of involving someone who could develop some of these odds and ends into another Karma Police - a Phil Spector type. So what they had, simply had to do.
Bring on the 'tards
The band had an ace up its sleeve, however. That huge former fanbase still viewed the fading memory of Radiohead with affection, and they'd been patiently waiting for three years since the last new material (excluding solo stuff). This was enough to create an instant buzz - and the band bet that enough of these fans were so dedicated as to pay twice: once for the "preview", and once for the physical release.
But it was the Music Freetards who catapulted Radiohead from the Culture pages in the papers into the Business Section, and even the front page. After a decade of digital music shenanigans, hacks were still asking the question, "What's the new Business Model?" To which the anti-copyright crowd replied: "give stuff away for free!" For hacks who can look no further than bloggers for their ideas, this was the cue they needed.
(Here are some field recordings samples of Music Freetards captured in their natural habitat, and doing what they love doing best - bullying and whinging.)