With the music industry constantly changing, losing money and never likely to act as a cohesive business ever again, some well-known rock and pop acts are foregoing longtime major label relationships to put out music on their own terms. And early returns for them are looking good.
Radiohead, and now Trent Reznor, with his industrial hard rock band Nine Inch Nails, are among the big names in popular music who have released new material on their own respective websites in recent months. Ghosts I-IV, NIN's new and all-instrumental 36-track album went on sale in various, low and high-paying formats March 2 on NIN.com and in its first week generated $1.6 million in revenue from over 800,000 download sales.
Unlike Radiohead however, NIN, who left Interscope Records late last year, plans to keep their new material away from a record label. Radiohead on the other hand, after releasing their seventh studio album In Rainbows online on a pay-whatever-you-want basis in October of 2007, ended up signing with a label anyway, XL Recordings. They released it on CD on New Year's Day. And also unlike Radiohead's music files, which were mid-level quality at 160kbps, NIN's choice of audio quality is of the highest caliber, at 320kbps for mp3s and lossless formats available for a higher price. You could also purchase CDs, DVDs and limited vinyl versions of Ghosts I-IV as well, again, all without any record label's input. The latter came as part of the already sold-out $300 limited edition, of which there were only 2,500 and were personally numbered and autographed by Reznor.
Though not enough time has passed to sufficiently compare the two artists in terms of sales numbers, both appear to be enjoying success with their new directions, not to mention highly acclaimed music, especially in Radiohead's case. Radiohead never made official estimates of their online sales, but various reports say they made millions of dollars on the online edition of In Rainbows, perhaps up to $6 million, with downloaders paying $5-8 on average for the album. Lead singer/guitarist Thom Yorke has said: "[W]e've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever - in terms of anything on the 'net."