What We Can Learn From Trent Reznor

This subject has been talked to death, so of course I’m gonna weigh in too!  By now, we all know about Trent Reznor’s experiments with online music distribution.  Specifically, the disappointment with his first attempt at ‘Download & Pay What It’s Worth’ distribution (Saul Williams’ release “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust” which Reznor produced), the hype and success of his own instrumental release “Ghosts I-IV”, and most recently the totally free, can’t pay for it even if ya’ wanna “The Slip” release available HERE.

So what have we learned through all this? I mean the rest of us, not the labels. God knows they’re not picking up on anything. But WE – the independent artists, the would-be digital music companies, the FANS – can learn a lot actually. We’ve learned that expecting to get too much money early on from a relatively unknown artist probably won’t work. Sorry Saul, but even Reznor’s endorsement couldn’t really fire-up the excitement over your release – but there’s still time. And the buzz is building.

We’ve also learned that the sooner your fans get the music, the better. Either you give it away online, or your sound engineer will. Your choice. And unlike the faux-marketing model of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” where you were allowed to download a sub-CD quality set of songs in hopes that you’d pony up actual cash for a better version, with Reznor you actually can get high quality, DRM free music at little to no cost, including the artwork. Of course to make it commercially viable, there were also more expensive ‘limited’ edition sets available including vinyl or hand-signed editions, but the fact remains if you didn’t want to pay, you could get the first 9 tracks scott free. For $5 bucks, you could get them all.

Now my initial reaction to this model was that Reznor was exploiting his diehard fanbase by offering the exorbitantly expensive $300 ‘Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition’, knowing full well the completists of his little cult would have to have it, selling off cars and siblings in order to make the purchase if necessary. Here’s where he impressed me the most, however. In the face of this nay-saying (he must have heard me!), comes the totally free release of “The Slip” as a thank you for “continued and loyal support”.

Ok, now that was cool. Which leads us to the next thing we all can learn from Trent Reznor – appreciate your fans and your fans will appreciate you. Don’t talk above them or down to them – treat them with respect. They’ll repay you tenfold. You can’t whine about lost music profits to a group who largely may be unemployed at any given moment, and you can’t demand that they stop illegal downloading. Ok, you can demand but it won’t do any good. Instead, by offering reasonable options, viable alternatives for every budget – you minimize the black market of your own material while fanning the flames of adoration.

In this series of strategic moves, Trent has re-invigorated his career, established himself as not only a business visionary but an empathic ear to his listeners, and given a lot of food for thought to every other band in existence. Not that there aren’t negatives to consider – how well would this work for unknown artists, does distribution allow for lesser quality material to be released too easily, will this model work for consecutive releases of an artist – many, many things to ponder.

But add this to your list of thoughts to consider; Nine Inch Nails is getting ready to tour with not one, but two new releases under their belts and a buttload of publicity behind them. Think they’re gonna make any cash on tour now? Think the risk was worth the pay-off?? Yeah, I’m thinkin’ it was.

And through it all it was shown that the doom and gloom of digital downloading and that “damn new technology” might just have opened up opportunity in addition to Pandora’s box.

Well done, Mr. Reznor.

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One Response to “What We Can Learn From Trent Reznor”

  1. Nice writing style. I will come back to read more posts from you.

    Susan Kishner

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