I’m sick and tired of the constant debate about Radiohead’s business model. It WASN’T a business model. It was a one time stunt that is not the future of the music business and will only be replicated by fools.
Want to make some money? Sell t-shirts. Charge for gigs. Create a fan club (that actually delivers something besides tickets). Because as 2007 draws to a close, it appears most people now believe music is free. And want to hear it before they pay for it!
You take a test drive before you buy a car, don’t you? You go to the Apple Store and fiddle with a Mac before you order one. What makes you think the same rules don’t apply to music? Music, when done right, isn’t disposable. The only stuff you don’t try out before buying is shit that’s cheap, that you instantly use up. You don’t care that much if you get ripped off. You’ll just never buy that product again.
But music is different. Music, when done right, hits you EMOTIONALLY! It’s not inert, it’s made by people. It’s more than the sound. There’s a culture, that you may choose to bond with. Yes, it’s a choice, as opposed to what the major labels presently think. You don’t hammer your audience over the head, you INVITE them to partake.
Does a drug dealer make you pay upfront? No, a new customer always gets a taste free. To see how fucking good the drug is. The goal is to ADDICT the customer, so he’ll keep on paying until he dies. This is the way it used to be in the music business, in the sixties and seventies, when bands had CAREERS!
That’s what you need, a career. Because you just can’t make it as an overnight star anymore. You can’t sell enough records, no one wants to see you…the only people interested are those who don’t count, the casual buyers. Our whole business has been dumbed down, the rough edges shorn, so the casual user will partake. Drug dealers don’t get rich on the person who gets high once a year, they need people who partake EVERY NIGHT!
But the only people who want you to listen to music every night are those at Apple. Selling you iPods that can hold your entire collection and run for hours. The concert industry doesn’t want you to come on regular basis, you can’t AFFORD IT! And the record labels have overcharged you for crap for so many years that you no longer trust that there IS such a thing as an album playable from beginning to end.
The significance of "In Rainbows" isn’t its tip jar sale structure, but the fact that the band did it alone, without a major label.
Radiohead looked and still looks cool. Radiohead looks like it’s in bed with its fans. Radiohead knows its customer is the one on the street, not the one in the boardroom. That it must please the fan, not the businessman. Sure, they cleared a couple of mil here, more power to them. But if you think you can replicate this stunt, you’re dreaming.
First and foremost, you won’t be first. So, no matter what you do, it won’t be cool. Second, you’re not as cool as Radiohead, they’re the coolest band in the world! Your music is not perceived to be as good, so fewer people are interested and fewer will pay.
If name your price was such a good business model, why doesn’t GM employ it? Or Time Warner? Marketing is about establishing VALUE! The labels, the business at large, have done a good job of eviscerating value. The only hope for revenue in the future is for people to believe they’re getting their money’s worth.
I don’t care that most people didn’t pay for "In Rainbows". And you shouldn’t either. Radiohead is an anomaly. Your problem isn’t getting a ton of people to pay for your music, it’s getting a ton of people to HEAR your music!
Look at the Eagles. They did a one time deal with Wal-Mart. You can’t replicate this paradigm because Wal-Mart doesn’t need you. The only bands who can generate this kind of traffic…can be counted on one hand. Still, only 700,000 people bought "Long Road Out Of Eden". Good for the band’s pockets, positively shitty in terms of footprint. "Long Road Out Of Eden" is the last twist on the old paradigm, charging in the neighborhood of ten bucks per album.
The Eagles sell out. But, they could insure constant sellouts for years if they distributed TENS OF MILLIONS of copies of "Long Road Out Of Eden". Gave it away free on their Website, with newspapers, as premiums. That’s what you’re gonna have to do, because in the near future, Wal-Mart won’t even SELL CDs.
Are you getting me here? It’s less about charging up front than wide distribution. I got e-mail from people who told me they didn’t even know there was a new Eagles album until they read it in my newsletter. Better yet, I got an e-mail from a sophisticate who said she didn’t know Annie Lennox had a new album until she saw an online ad on a news site.
How do we spread the word? THAT’S the question. How can we get people INTERESTED! When society is fractured, and we all don’t listen to the tribal drum of terrestrial radio or network TV. It’s less about figuring how to charge for physical discs, or keeping margins up, than finding customers who are interested.
Pretty face with a catchy beat just isn’t enough anymore. The nineties are done. Consider giving the album away as a marketing cost. You’ve got to do something to get people interested. Or else, you’ve got no business.
Just talk to the major labels… They’ve got no business.
You’re smarter than that. You’re making good music, you’re empowering your fans. Follow those aspects of Radiohead’s success. Their march to their own drummer, their refusal to hew to the hit radio paradigm. Radiohead created an online ruckus because of its ten year investment in the BAND! It was all about the music, unfettered by commercialism. I’m stunned this many people even wanted to pay! But pay they did, because they RESPECT Radiohead.
Focus on credibility. Focus on the music. Focus on the fan. Then the money will come. People will beat your door down to give you money. It may not be for recordings, but you’ve got plenty else to sell.