Radiohead makes the music industry its bitch, hopes the world is honest.
With the online release today of Radiohead's latest and label-free album, In Rainbows, I really get the feeling that they've started something bigger than just themselves or their music. Maybe just coincidentally – although given their track record, originality isn't what usually comes to mind – but now it's surfaced that Oasis have also decided to make their next release as free as a bird (that's a witty reference to the fact that the Gallagher brothers often blatantly rip off the Beatles, so, you know, laugh), while fellow countrymen Jamiroquai and mopey crybaby industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails have made similar announcements (although it's unclear whether Reznor will make his music free, or just continue releasing hard copies on his own… possibly with bonus add-ons like glass vials full of his tears).
And I'm guessing things aren't just going to stop there. In fact, I'd probably put a few bucks on this really being the beginning of the end of music sales as we know it. If you think about it, artists and music will always exist, and whenever you hear someone talk about the trouble that the music industry is in, it's not like it's because musicians all woke up one day incapable of writing new material, or felt so scared that if they record again, vultures and flying rats with spiders for eyes might eat them and their families. No, the state of music is as fine as it ever was; it's just the labels who are quickly getting fucked. But what's truly important in this whole thing is that it looks like we're rapidly coming to realize that we will always, in whatever ways technology allows, have access to the music that we want to hear on what is fast becoming our terms.
What will be interesting to see though, is just how many people decide to pay for Radiohead's new record, since they're releasing it on a pay-what-you-can basis, with the option of also purchasing a super swanky box-set package with bonus vinyl and lots of other goodies through the mail. What I do know is that by roughly early evening, a massive number of music fans around the world will have participated in what seems pretty likely to be a big-ish step in how music is distributed and heard.
But just remember that if nobody pays for it, Radiohead and all the others that are sure to follow'll be singing a very different tune.
Or they'll just make mountains of money through touring and selling t-shirts…