Saturday 18 November 2017

Niall Byrne: Radiohead's revolution

Radiohead were hailed as visionaries for their digital self-release, but it backfired
Radiohead were hailed as visionaries for their digital self-release, but it backfired

Niall Byrne

In late 2007, all anyone interested in the music industry could talk about was Radiohead. In October that year, the band quickly self-released their seventh album, In Rainbows, through their website and offered fans a "pay what you want" pricing structure that included the price of zero for a period of three months.

The band were hailed as visionaries, despite the many artists who had done something similar before. The difference was -- Radiohead are popular. Having left their major label EMI prior to release, the band had no label contract. They still needed to sell physical copies of the album though, so two months later, XL Recordings licensed the album and put it in the shops. Similar deals were struck in other territories in the world.

Last week, the Bittorrent blog Torrent-Freak highlighted the nasty repercussions of those deals. Despite largely giving their album away for free digitally (an estimate of 62 per cent of people opted not to pay for the album), TorrentFreak says that industry representative groups Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) have been issuing takedown notices to fans who are sharing the album online recently.

Nothing too out of the ordinary there except for the fact that the songs were given away for free in the first place digitally, so what rights do the labels have to claim infringements against fans when they only have physical licensing deals? And what do Radiohead think of all this? At the time of writing, there has been no comment from the band but it would be surprising to learn that the band supported such measures.

Since they released In Rainbows, spurred on by their acclaimed digital pre-release idea, the band have been pro-active in being anti-industry. Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien represented the band in the UK lobby group Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), which campaigns for the protection of musician's rights and greater control over artists' own recordings in the industry. Thom Yorke recently predicted the end of the music industry in an interview and drew flak for advising aspiring musicians not to align themselves with the mainstream music industry which he called "a sinking ship".

Well, it appears even Radiohead can't escape getting tangled up in the machinations of the music biz. FAC are unhappy that industry groups were going after fans without permission from the bands. But that's exactly what's happened here.

It just goes to show for all the talk and new ideas for releasing music in the future, when it comes to the big bands, they still have to rely on traditional methods and all that comes with it to sell their music to big audiences.

Irish Independent

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