The New York Times this weekend had a good piece on Trent Reznor and his approach to the ongoing disruption of the music industry, which is to experiment as much as possible and in some cases — as he did with his most recent album — to give things away for free.
â€œItâ€™s all out there,â€ he added. â€œI donâ€™t agree that it should be free, but it is free, and you can either accept it or you can put your head in the sand.â€
The Nine Inch Nails frontman also seems to have changed his mind about the response to the album he produced by Saul Williams, which was offered as a Radiohead-style “pay what you want” download. At the time, Trent said that he was disappointed that only 20 per cent of people who downloaded it paid. But in the NYT piece, he says:
â€œThe numbers of the people that paid for that record, versus the people that paid for his last record, were greater,â€ he said. â€œHe made infinitely more money from that record than he did from his other one.
It increased his name value probably tenfold. At the end of the day, counting free downloads, it was probably five or six or seven times higher than the amount sold on his last record. I donâ€™t know how you could look at that as a failure.â€
My friend David Usher — who was on an excellent mesh 2008 panel about the future of music and the Web — said in a recent blog post that it’s easy for Trent and Radiohead and other multimillionaire musicians to pull what he called “stunts” like that, but it’s not necessarily a new business model for the vast majority of artists, and I think he is right. But I also think he and Trent share a lot of the same thoughts about what artists have to do in order to succeed in this new environment, and that is to focus on their music and on their fans, to build as direct a relationship with them as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.
Incidentally, David has thought a lot about these issues, and is as smart and perceptive about the business side of what he does as he is talented at the music side — I highly recommend his blog, CloudID.com, if you’re interested in what an artist thinks about new media, and you can follow along as the new album (whose release date he announced on Twitter) comes together at DavidUsher.com.