Cultuere

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(c) Bedford/St. Martin's bedfordstmartins.com 1-457-62096-0 / 978-1-457-62096-6

SOUNDS AND IMAGES

Sound Recording
and Popular
Music
73
The Development
of Sound Recording
81
U.S. Popular Music
and the Formation
of Rock
88
A Changing Industry:
Reformations in
Popular Music
95
The Business of
Sound Recording
103
Sound Recording,
Free Expression,
and Democracy

For years, the recording industry has been panicking about file swappers who illegally download songs and thereby decrease recorded music sales. So it struck many in the industry as
unusual when the Grammy Award–winning British alternative rock group Radiohead decided to sell its 2007 album In Rainbows on the Internet
(www.inrainbows.com) for whatever price fans
wished to pay, including nothing at all.
Radiohead was able to try this business model
because its contract with the record corporation
EMI had expired after its previous album, 2003’s
Hail to the Thief. Knowing it had millions of fans
around the world, the group turned down multimillion-dollar offers to sign a new contract with major labels, and instead decided to experiment
by offering its seventh studio album online with a
“pay what you wish” approach. “It’s not supposed
to be a model for anything else. It was simply a response to a situation,” Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, said. “We’re out of contract. We have
our own studio. We have this new server. What the
hell else would we do? This was the obvious thing.
But it only works for us because of where we are.”1
CHAPTER 3 ○ SOUND RECORDING

(c) Bedford/St. Martin's bedfordstmartins.com 1-457-62096-0 / 978-1-457-62096-6

71

SOUND RECORDING AND POPULAR MUSIC

Radiohead didn’t disclose the sales revenue or numbers of the downloads, but one source claimed at least 1.2 million
copies of the album were downloaded
in the first two days.2 In an interview
with an Australian newspaper, Yorke
mentioned that about 50 percent of the
downloaders took the album for free.3
But a study conservatively estimated
that Radiohead made an average of
$2.26 on each album download. If that’s
the case, Radiohead may have made
more money per recording than the traditional royalties the group might have earned with a release by a major label.4
Although Radiohead’s Thom Yorke said
the online album release experiment
was not supposed to be a model for
anyone else, it ended up being just that.
Hip-hop artist Saul Williams released
digital downloads of The Inevitable
Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust
(saulwilliams.com) for $5, with a “free”
option to the first hundred thousand
customers. Williams’s recording was
produced by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch
Nails. In March 2008, Nine Inch Nails
released Ghosts I–IV, a four-album
recording with thirty-six songs, at
ghosts.nin.com. Ghost I, the package
of the first nine songs, was available as
a free download, with the rest available for purchase. Coldplay boosted the release of its 2008 recording Viva
la Vida or Death and All His Friends by
giving away free downloads of its single
“Violet Hill” for a week.
Another alternate avenue music artists
are exploring for promoting their music
is posting their music videos on the
Internet. As MTV’s programming turned
away from videos, video-hosting
Web sites like YouTube, Dailymotion,

72

and Vevo have become a way to get less
expensive (free) and much wider music
video distribution. In 2006, the band
OK Go gained enormous attention by
posting its treadmill dancing video for
its song “Here It Goes Again” on YouTube. The video went viral and made OK Go a profitable act for EMI. Yet EMI
later prohibited OK Go’s videos from
being embedded on any site but YouTube, since only YouTube paid royalties to EMI for views on its site. Immediately,
views of the group’s videos dropped by
90 percent, and OK Go lost one of its
best methods of promotion. In March
2010, OK Go parted ways with EMI and
released an...
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