It took a while, but at least some music artists are starting to get it. With a hat-tip to Andrew McNeice’s compulsively-readable guilty pleasure Melodicrock.com, here’s an excerpt from an interview with Nine Inch Nails impresario Trent Reznor:
It must be an odd time then to have a new album, Year Zero, out?
It’s a very odd time to be a musician on a major label, because there’s so much resentment towards the record industry that it’s hard to position yourself in a place with the fans where you don’t look like a greedy asshole. But at the same time, when our record came out I was disappointed at the number of people that actually bought it. If this had been 10 years ago
I would think “Well, not that many people are into it. OK, that kinda sucks. Yeah I could point fingers but the blame would be with me, maybe I’m not relevant”. But on this record, I know people have it and I know it’s on everybody’s iPods, but the climate is such that people don’t buy it because it’s easier to steal it.
You’re a bit of a computer geek. You must have been there, too?
Oh, I understand that — I steal music too, I’m not gonna say I don’t. But it’s tough not to resent people for doing it when you’re the guy making the music, that would like to reap a benefit from that. On the other hand, you got record labels that are doing everything they can to piss people off and rip them off. I created a little issue down here because the first thing I did when I got to Sydney is I walk into HMV, the week the record’s out, and I see it on the rack with a bunch of other releases. And every release I see: $21.99, $22.99, $24.99. And ours doesn’t have a sticker on it. I look close and ‘Oh, it’s $34.99’. So I walk over to see our live DVD Beside You in Time, and I see that it’s also priced six, seven, eight dollars more than every other disc on there. And I can’t figure out why that would be.
Did you have a word to anyone?
Well, in Brisbane I end up meeting and greeting some record label people, who are pleasant enough, and one of them is a sales guy, so I say “Why is this the case?” He goes “Because your packaging is a lot more expensive”. I know how much the packaging costs — it costs me, not them, it costs me 83 cents more to have a CD with the colour-changing ink on it. I’m taking the hit on that, not them. So I said “Well, it doesn’t cost $10 more”. “Ah, well, you’re right, it doesn’t. Basically it’s because we know you’ve got a core audience that’s gonna buy whatever we put out, so we can charge more for that. It’s the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy it. True fans will pay whatever”. And I just said “That’s the most insulting thing I’ve heard. I’ve garnered a core audience that you feel it’s OK to rip off? F— you’.
That kind of thing definitely didn’t start with NIN in 2007. More than 20 years ago, I was working in a little record store (yes, they were still records back then) in south Alabama when Metallica’s “$5.98 EP Garage Days Re-Revisited” record came out. The band was (admirably) concerned enough about stores jacking up the price of a short covers album that they put the list price in the title. My boss, who’d wanted to run it up to $9.99 to take advantage of Metallica’s then-cult audience, was pissed.
At any rate, it’s about time that successful artists with established audiences started to notice what (ahem) some of us figured out quite a while back: when your fans have the internet, you really don’t need a record company:
Given all that, do you have any idea how to approach the release of your next album?
I’ve have one record left that I owe a major label, then I will never be seen in a situation like this again. If I could do what I want right now, I would put out my next album, you could download it from my site at as high a bit-rate as you want, pay $4 through PayPal. Come see the show and buy a T-shirt if you like it. I would put out a nicely packaged merchandise piece, if you want to own a physical thing. And it would come out the day that it’s done in the studio, not this “Let’s wait three months” bulls—.
UPDATE: My bad for initially leaving off the last quote, which contained the real point of the post in the first place.