Radiohead Disappears

Has it really been nine years since “In Rainbows”?

Then the issue was getting paid.

Now the issue is getting attention.

That’s what the greedy bigwigs don’t understand. If you lock it up behind a paywall you could end up broke, or hobbled. Think of how much money Prince would have made if his music was on YouTube, Spotify, et al.

But how do you get noticed on those services? How do you get heard?

By being already famous or getting on a playlist. We want to hear the work of acts we already know and although we also want to hear new music we are overwhelmed by the amount of product, we don’t know where to start.

Which is why the big get bigger, they’ve already got a name.

And that Radiohead does. Like Beyonce, it was built under the last gasp of the old system. When MTV still had power, when everybody could know who you were, and almost everybody heard your music.

Radiohead’s publicity campaign will far outstrip the number of people who ultimately listen to the music. Still, the U.K. band has played the modern era like a fiddle, kudos.

In an era where everybody is vying for attention, where all is revealed, Radiohead decided to pull back, not only not post but delete its presence, however slowly. They said scarcity was dead, but this is a new spin on the concept, if you’re there but then not we’re interested, for a while anyway.

And this campaign was very brief. A matter of days. Any longer and the project would get stale, people would lose interest. Once again, the long buildup is history, you announce and then you sell. You pounce when everybody is paying attention. Hell, Beyonce got it right. She did HBO and put out “Lemonade” and went on the road nearly simultaneously. And it’s worked, she’s got the whole world talking about her efforts, if not listening. She’s owned the music news cycle, for ten days anyway, and today that’s a very long time. Will the hysteria continue? Only if radio plays “Lemonade,” but still, we can see that Beyonce outdid Adele. Adele’s campaign was positively old school. Wherein you carpet bomb the media with the same damn stories again and again and then release the record for a first week sales burst that will also be news, in the fourth quarter to boot. But it’s not quite six months later and Adele’s name is rarely heard, and her music has no purchase on the public mind,
because she’s absent from radio and streaming services. Remove yourself from the arena at your peril.

But Adele is a party of one, the world’s biggest superstar. She gets to do it her way, the usual rules don’t apply. And in a business where people only care about the money, rash decisions are made that are fan unfriendly, and you never want to be fan unfriendly. But this has been the paradigm for eons. Remember when Tom Petty protested about being the poster boy for sky high album prices? That’s what windowing is today, that’s what refusing to be on streaming services is today, a way for the man to grab cash. The acts come and go, the companies remain. Performers who bitch about not making enough money have lost their stripes in the artistic wars, they’ve become denizens of our coarse modern society, believing that mazuma is everything when the truth is art rules.

And Radiohead is ruling today.

You see it’s all about conception. The idea. And there’s no revolution, no revelation in holding your music back, doing the aforementioned windowing. But this disappearing act is a revelation. It’s more than publicity. It’s a comment on our society. Furthermore, this is all you get. Old players would now give interviews, spread the word, explain, double-down on what they’ve done. Modern superstars hold back, what the hell is going on? How the hell should I know!

But Radiohead did use modern tools to get the word out. Not only did the band recede from social media services, it employed them when it reappeared, Instagram and YouTube. He who denies the modern world is left out. And never forget these tools are free. Bitch about that when you’re worried about getting paid.

So the whole world is watching. But then they won’t be. But this stunt will be remembered. As was the “In Rainbows” pay what you want one. The band has triumphed twice, demonstrating innovation and thought in a world where most pop acts just do what they’re told, which is an imitation of what came before.

But just like bands tried to imitate the “In Rainbows” formula unsuccessfully, if you’re sitting at home dreaming of replicating Radiohead’s vanishing formula, forget it. You can only do it once, successfully. And it can only be pulled off by an act with an extremely high profile.

But the paradigm remains, in today’s economy attention is everything. It’s what we all vie for, especially on social media, it’s fleeting, but it precedes monetization. In the old days distribution was king, if you couldn’t buy it, it didn’t exist. Now everything exists, how do you make people aware, how do you get them to sample?

That’s the question.

One Response to Radiohead Disappears


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  1. […] Meanwhile, Instagram changed its logo this week, record labels aren’t as evil as Prince made them seem, and Bob Lefsetz has some interesting thoughts about what Radiohead is doing. […]

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  1. […] Meanwhile, Instagram changed its logo this week, record labels aren’t as evil as Prince made them seem, and Bob Lefsetz has some interesting thoughts about what Radiohead is doing. […]

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