Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

In what is quickly becoming the latest death knell for the recording industry, new information concerning the new online-only release of the new Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV is making it clear that under the right circumstances (freedom from recording contracts) and with the right clout (which comes from an intensely loyal fanbase) musicians are able to make more money on their own by making their music available directly to the public on their own. New York magazine crunched the numbers released by Trent Reznor's publicist to ascertain that sales of the new multi-"disc" collection of instrumental-only music has already generated over $1 million dollars for Reznor outright (not taking into consideration the costs involved with web hosting, hard copy production, etc.) which is money he would've never made from a record company under the "normal" way of doing things:

While Radiohead stays quiet about how much they made from the record-company-less sales of In Rainbows last October, Vulture buddy Trent Reznor is a bit more forthcoming with the data on Ghosts I-V, his new instrumental album, which he self-released on Nine Inch Nails' Website on March 2. In a press release from his publicist, Reznor says: Nine Inch Nails' 36-track instrumental opus Ghosts I-IV, released March 2 via, has amassed a first week total of 781,917 transactions (including free and paid downloads as well as orders for physical product), resulting in a take of $1,619,420 USD. Wow! We're not sure if that $1.6 million includes the cost of hosting and delivering the MP3s, or the manufacturing and shipping of physical copies of the album (we bet all are relatively cheap anyway), but even if it doesn't, this is obviously an impressive haul. Given that an artist like Trent would probably never make that kind of money on an album released through a label these days (especially not a double album of synthesizer instrumentals), this sort of makes record companies look a little silly (if, in fact, any still exist). Just imagine how much he'd have made if he actually sang on a few songs!

If you consider that a portion of the Ghosts I-IV collection is being given away for free along side the pay options and money is still being made, well, this is a very remarkable feat. Additionally, on March 2, Trent Reznor posted information on how the Ghosts collection came to be and says that more volumes of Ghosts are "likely to appear" in the future:

This music arrived unexpectedly as the result of an experiment. The rules were as follows: 10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as... something.

The team: Atticus Ross, Alan Moulder and myself with some help from Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew and Brian Viglione. Rob Sheridan collaborated with Artist in Residence (A+R) to create the accompanying visual and physical aesthetic.

We began improvising and let the music decide the direction. Eyes were closed, hands played instruments and it began. Within a matter of days it became clear we were on to something, and a lot of material began appearing. What we thought could be a five song EP became much more. I invited some friends over to join in and we all enjoyed the process of collaborating on this.

The end result is a wildly varied body of music that we're able to present to the world in ways the confines of a major record label would never have allowed - from a 100% DRM-free, high-quality download, to the most luxurious physical package we've ever created.

More volumes of Ghosts are likely to appear in the future.

- Trent Reznor, March 2, 2008

Thank the Gods for music pioneers like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Prince (who, as Pink reader Lisa reminds me, has LONG been making music available to fans online, years before anyone else has done so) for taking on the practices of the status quo and for taking the power away from the record companies (that have long been taking full advantage of artists and consumers alike) and putting it back in the hands of the artists themselves. Sure, all of this is still very new and it isn't possible for all musicians to operate in this DIY manner ... yet ... but the blueprint for how to successfully manage one's own music career have been laid. It won't be long until this practice of artist-to-audience interaction will be commonplace. The future is now and it is being revolutionized ... or should I say, Reznor-lutionized. [Source]