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Radiohead Profits Off Gamble

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Joel Horowitz
  • 19 december 2007

Radiohead caused a big ruckus earlier this year when they released their latest album, In Rainbows, without a price tag. Music industry execs and indie-rockers alike were upset (albeit curious) about having to deal with big-time bands giving records away, with seemingly no concern about profits or losses.

Wired Magazine listens in on a discussion between Thom Yorke of Radiohead and David Byrne about making money:

Byrne: Are you making money on the download of In Rainbows?

Yorke: In terms of digital income, we’ve made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever — in terms of anything on the Net. And that’s nuts. It’s partly due to the fact that EMI wasn’t giving us any money for digital sales. All the contracts signed in a certain era have none of that stuff.

and about distributing music:

Byrne: I’ve been thinking about how distribution and CDs and record shops and all that stuff are changing. But we’re talking about music. What is music, what does music do for people? What do people get from it? What’s it for? That’s the thing that’s being exchanged. Not all the other stuff. The other stuff is the shopping cart that holds some of it.

Yorke: It’s a delivery service.

Byrne: But people will still pay to have that experience. You create a community with music, not just at concerts but by talking about it with your friends. By making a copy and handing it to your friends, you’ve established a relationship. The implication is that they’re now obligated to give you something back.

Yorke: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was just thinking while you were saying that: How does a record company get their hands on that? It makes me think of the No Logo book where Naomi Klein describes how the Nike people would pay guys to get down with the kids on the street. I know for a fact that major record labels do the same thing. But no one has ever explained to me exactly how. I mean, do they lurk around in the discussion boards and post “Have you heard the…”? Maybe they do. And then I was thinking about that Johnny Cash film, when Cash walks in and says, “I want to do a live record in a prison,” and his label thinks he’s bonkers. Yet at the same time, it was able to somehow understand what kids wanted and give it to him. Whereas now, I think there’s a lack of understanding. It’s not about who’s ripping off whom, and it’s not about legal injunctions, and it’s not about DRM and all that sort of stuff. It’s about whether the music affects you or not. And why would you worry about an artist or a company going after people copying their music if the music itself is not valued?

Byrne: You’re valuing the delivery system as opposed to the relationship and the emotional thing…

Yorke: You’re valuing the company or the interest of the artists rather than the music itself. I don’t know. We’ve always been quite naive. We don’t have any alternative to doing this. It’s the only obvious thing to do.

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