Radiohead – Ahead of the Music Business?

22 Feb

The Beatles sent their fans into frenzied conspiracy when the propagation of the “Paul Is Dead” rumor began in 1966. Well, I presume I too am falling into the trap of theorizing because the Beatles never came out and said the entire thing was a hoax created by them. But, come on, we are not dumb. Fans destroyed Beatles’ records by playing songs backwards searching for clues. Nuggets were found at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (I Buried Paul) and on the cover of Abbey Road (Paul is not wearing shoes or socks, barefoot, like a corpse). It took the Beatles’ fan populace by storm. But it was all a planned prank, executed as a clever marketing ploy. If you destroy a record searching for clues, you have to go out and buy another one. Plus, people would go out of their way to buy and listen to Beatles’ albums excessively. The Beatles knew how to make money and sell records. They were ahead of their time.

On the heels of Radiohead‘s new release King of Limbs, I am tempted to believe that they too are way ahead of the current musical climate. It is a simple truth that the music business has suffered mightily at the hands of free digital downloading and sharing, illegal but widespread. As I posted several days ago, charts are showing this economic slump. There are no signs that it will get better. Album sales are putting up a defeated fight. If you want to make money today as a non-mainstream musician, there seem to be two options. Either tour wildly or do what Radiohead is doing. But it seems that Radiohead’s pioneering strategy is going unheeded.

Radiohead is living in the future. Thom Yorke and company are intelligent marketers, well-versed in the convoluted wasteland of album sales. When Radiohead released In Rainbows in 2007 they decided to allow fans to purchase the album at whatever cost they saw fit. Radiohead, not being affiliated with a record label, saw most of the profits.

I know, most right now are probably saying, people paid close to nothing for the album. This is completely untrue. Most people paid around four euros for the album, according to a poll by Gigwise.com. That’s around $5.50. Yes, it is a couple of dollars less than what they would have received from an album sale at an online store…but, no, go through iTunes and Radiohead could have seen only around 25 percent of their profits. In Rainbows made nearly $10 million dollars in less than a week, according to an article on ultimate-guitar.com. People paid because they felt bad. Despite what you hear about downloading and sharing, most still believe that this is stealing. So, Radiohead’s “stupid” strategy made the band millions of dollars in a poor album climate. I’d say that is pretty solid.

For King of Limbs, Radiohead announced the album’s release on Feb. 14, 2011. They released the album on Feb. 18 through their website. It was like a shock to Radiohead fan’s systems. The band got everyone excited. People needed this album. So, King of Limbs, created a stir. This album has a set price, but fans can also receive a physical package including “two clear 10-inch vinyl records, a CD and an elaborate package including several large sheets of artwork, 625 small pieces of artwork and a plastic sleeve,” according to Rollingstone.com for $48. The digital album has already been released, but the physical CD will not be shipped until March 28 and the package, May 9. Why the delay?

Is there really any question of what Radiohead is doing? The last song on their new album is called “separator” and the last line of that song is “If you think this is over, you’re wrong,” as Okocim pointed out in his review of the album. I smell Beatles’ intelligence. Some fans have created a theory that the album has a part two version that will be released. The CD is not being shipped until March 28 and the huge package with TWO vinyl records is not being shipped until May 9. I’m not saying that part two does exist and will certainly be in these physical releases, but it is not hard to reach a conclusion that this may be the case. People love feeling like they are getting something that others are not. Watch the $48 package sales increase over the next few months, all awaiting the shipment in May, which will have two LPs, one that may hold a surprise to those who paid more money. Yeah, Radiohead knows what they are doing.

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