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It’s Independent Film Week and the IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Conference, so I thought I’d bring up Radiohead before some panelist does. A couple of years ago I remember sitting at a panel (not at the IFP, actually) at which a young filmmaker was asking how to jumpstart his own business model. A guy onstage in a suit who probably billed at $600 an hour looked at him and said, “The answer is Radiohead,” referring to the band’s strategy of releasing their In Rainbows digitally over the internet for whatever price fans were willing to pay. (The band subsequently released a higher bitrate CD through ATO Records.) Sure, Chris Anderson’s Free was in the air, but, even so, I remember thinking the response disingenuous — as if some young filmmaker could lift the same strategy as one of the most popular and best bands in the world and expect to realize any ratio of the same success.

I”m not dismissive of free or alternative pricing strategies, and as readers of this site know, I’m certainly not against DIY distribution. But I am against uncritical thinking that presupposes that methods used by bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails can be adopted without modification by people with much smaller or even no fan bases.

These thoughts were prompted by an article by Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood at Index on Censorship. The great news is that the band has finished a new collection of songs. But despite the success of In Rainbows, they haven’t figured out what model to use to release the music this time. Read the whole piece for some interesting thoughts on the growth of the web and the maturing of our relationship to digital music.

From the piece:

Three years later, we have just finished another group of songs, and have begun to wonder about how to release them in a digital landscape that has changed again. It seems to have become harder to own music in the traditional way, on a physical object like a CD, and instead music appears the poor cousin of software, streamed or locked into a portable device like a phone or iPod. I buy hardly any CDs now and get my music from many different sources: Spotify, iTunes, blog playlists, podcasts, online streaming — reviewing this makes me realise that my appetite for music now is just as strong as when I was 13, and how dependent I am upon digital delivery. At the same time, I find a lot of the technology very frustrating and counter-intuitive. I spend a lot of time using music production software, but iTunes feels clunky. I wish it was as simple and elegant as Apple’s hardware. I understand that we have become our own broadcasters and distributors, but I miss the editorialisation of music, the curatorial influences of people like John Peel or a good record label. I liked being on a record label that had us on it, along with Blur, the Beastie Boys and the Beatles.

I’m unconvinced that the internet has replaced the club or the concert hall as a forum for people to share ideas and passions about music. Social networking models such as Twitter and foursquare are early efforts at this but have some way to go to emulate the ecosystem that labels such as Island drew upon, the interconnected club and studio worlds of managers, musicians, artists and record company mavericks, let alone pay for such a fertile environment.

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