Metallica: One step forward, two steps…

Update:

According to a statement on the Metallica site, the band only just became aware that their management company was telling bloggers to take down their reviews, and they have told everyone to go ahead and write whatever they want:

“Once we re-surfaced on Tuesday after a few weeks on tour in Europe, we were informed that someone at Q Prime (our managers) had made the error of asking a few publications to take down reviews of the rough mixes from the new record that were posted on their sites. Our response was “WHY?!!”

Original post:

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote a post about how Metallica (or more likely, some elements of its management) actually seemed to be adapting to the new realities of the music industry, with a cool site called Mission: Metallica — where fans could get unreleased songs, video clips of the band in the studio, high-quality downloads with no DRM and so on. My friend Ethan Kaplan, the head of technology at Warner Brothers and one of our keynote speakers at mesh 2008 a few weeks ago, seemed proud of the site, and I think with good reason. It did a lot of things right.

So why has Metallica (or more likely, some of its management) suddenly taken a big step backward, by asking bloggers to remove their reviews after a private listening party? Who knows — but it sure looks dumb. And on lots of the blog posts and news articles that have been written about it, former fans are saying things like “Metallica is dead to me” or “this is just like the old Napster-hating Metallica). That’s not the kind of PR you want, obviously, and it’s a shame to see it coming so soon after the band did something that seemed so smart.

Metallica: Maybe the Web isn’t so bad

This is one for the irony file, right up there with the news that Napster is trying to remake itself (a third time) as a no-DRM download service, about half a decade too late. It seems that Metallica — the band that, more than any other, became known for its opposition to Napster and everything that the Web stood for — just launched a new site called Mission Metallica, which offers fans all kinds of special features, including the ability to hear tracks from the new album before it comes out. The site was developed by Ethan Kaplan, the head of technology at Warner Brothers Records, and his team there.

Ethan, as some of you may recall, was one of the “keynote conversations” at mesh 2008 a couple of weeks ago, where I talked with him about the future of music and the Web — and he talked about the idea that music is no longer primarily about selling an artifact (i.e., a plastic disc) but is more about the experience (if you want to read more about mesh, including Ethan’s keynote, check the links here and also this post). Not long after leaving Toronto, Ethan said he was working on the launch of a really major site and a few days later the record company launched Mission Metallica, and Ethan posted a message to Twitter saying:

For those that read my keynote coverage: Mission Metallica is one of the things along the lines of “experience” vs. “artifact”

Fans who sign up for Mission Metallica (and presumably are added to some sort of mailing list) get access to a host of special features, including video of the band writing and recording the band’s ninth album — which is due out in the fall — as well as what are described as “riffs and excerpts” from the album, new and archived photos of the band in the studio, “unique live tracks,” commentary from the band members and the chance to win tickets and passes to every show. All of this is free, according to the release. As the band describes it in a post at Metallica.com, it is:

“our way to bring you in and share with you not only the writing and recording process that’s been taking place in the last 18 months, but also what’s ahead between now and when the record is in your hands. And instead of waiting and releasing some “making of the record” additional DVD in a bullshit deluxe package when the album comes out, we figured why not let you be part of it up front?”

If you sign up for the Platinum level membership, you get: early access to the album on midnight of the release date, with a CD or vinyl album, along with high-quality (320kbps) mp3 files of every track, as well as the ability to download video clips of entire live shows, contests and so on. The high-quality downloads can be bought for $11.99, the CD plus the downloads is $19.99, the downloads plus the Platinum package is $24.99 and the CD plus the downloads plus the Platinum features is $32.99. If that’s still not enough, you can get a limited-edition package of five LPs, along with the CD, the high-quality downloads, a special lithograph and the Platinum features — all for just $124.99.

This tiered approach is similar to that taken by Nine Inch Nails frontman and mastermind Trent Reznor, who offered his recent Ghosts I-IV album as a series of downloads-plus-CD packages, along with a deluxe boxed set that included a Blu-Ray DVD, a CD, autographed items and other features for $300. Reznor later said that he sold 2,500 of the special sets, pulling in about $750,000 — almost half of the total $1.6-million he made on the album. Take that, Radiohead.