Home / Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, And Madonna: Three More Reasons That Downloading Music Isn’t Going Away

Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, And Madonna: Three More Reasons That Downloading Music Isn’t Going Away

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The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) would like you to believe that their recent legal victory over Jammie Thomas in the first RIAA copyright infringement lawsuit to ever go to trial will convince every illegal file sharer now to think twice. But the truth is that file sharing (legal or illegal) will forever be a staple in the digital age.

The funny thing is Thomas was guilty, as is every file sharer. There’s no way to spin it as anything but illegal (unless it’s legally authorized a la Grooveshark or Joost). In a post trial interview, one of the trial’s jurors bluntly gave their reasoning as for the guilty verdict. You can trust the honesty and legitimacy: "We wanted to send a message that you don't do this, that you have been warned."

Will most illegal file sharers really believe that what they’re doing is wrong? Maybe. Probably not, though. And P2P will continue.


If you believe this outdated 2002 statistic, “54% [of teens] ‘see nothing wrong’ with downloading music from the Internet.” There’s an obvious moral disconnect here.

But after repeated losses, I think the RIAA has given up on trying to go after primary school kids since no decent person would ever think that suing 12-year-old girls is cool.

What then.

Copyright infringement lawsuits are really hit-and-miss. The RIAA doesn’t find many people or groups willing to cooperate, even in academic circles. Maybe they should finally heed the advice many people and many groups have stressed for a long time. Maybe it's high time they embraced downloading and computer usage.

Lawsuits don’t gain you any sympathy and all those piracy ads get annoying and seem more ridiculous (see the hilarious spoof from The IT Crowd here). There are many options that the industry could turn to instead.

Glamorize the product. Enhanced CDs worked to a point. So did DualDiscs. But the industry didn’t push DVD audio or any other type of high-definition music. It couldn’t and didn’t know how to embrace the digital revolution. It was still stuck in the 2-D world.

Some studies even suggest that illegal file-sharing actually promotes music and convinces people to buy more than they otherwise would have. All of those statistics that claim piracy costs the industry billions are utterly absurd. You can’t prove that someone who illegally downloads an album, from let’s say the Red Hot Chili Peppers, would have bought it otherwise if P2P programs didn’t exist. It doesn’t make sense and those billion dollar losses are just flutter.

Take a clue from airlines that charge next-to-nothing for seats on last-minute flights that aren’t sold out. Any ticket sold up until ten minutes to take-off is guaranteed and paid for. Empty seats are empty seats. But if you can fill those empty seats before take-off, any money you make from them is considered profit.

Look at Radiohead and how the band has forgone the label approach to promoting and releasing its music. In an experiment, the band sold its latest album In Rainbows through its own website for any price the “fan” was willing to pay for it. Millions downloaded it legally through the website, even for free if the fan chose to, and millions more downloaded it illegally though BitTorrent and other P2P avenues as well. That fact alone can give you pause as to the indifference that people have toward file sharing. You could get it for free, but people will still choose to download it through P2P for some reason or another.

The flip side is that Radiohead seems to come out financially ahead in upfront revenue to the tune of possibly $6-10 million. Without the help of a label! Despite the non-help from BitTorrent!

Nine Inch Nails is set to follow this approach too, which wouldn’t be bad at all for the band. I, for one, like the CD format and would always choose the physical form over a digital copy any day. But it’s easy for these bands to use this method since they’re already well-known in rock circles. Getting a record contract is still a big deal for those millions of struggling bands trying to make it in the music business, which is why I don’t think the label system will ever really go away — although indie favorite Arctic Monkeys did manage to buck that trend.

But looking at how a superstar like Madonna is turning her back completely from her longtime label Warner Bros. is kind of a surprise. Signing with another label would have the traditional approach, but signing a contract with the largest concert promoter Live Nation would have been inconceivable even a few years ago.

It makes sense, though, for an artist like Madonna who makes more money through touring than any other peer. Her “Confessions” tour grossed almost $200 million in 2006 alone. Joining forces with the biggest concert promoter would only help her make more money and fill more stadiums.

Total gross shouldn’t automatically indicate popularity when juxtaposed to rising concert ticket prices. Read between the lines of Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s record-setting “Soul2Soul” tour billed as the highest grossing country tour ever with $141 million over 117 shows. The tour drew 1,673,667 fans as opposed to the previous record holder Garth Brooks whose 1997’s “Sevens” tour grossed $105 million on an attendance estimated at 5.5 million. McGraw’s manager Scott Siman was quick to point out that “Garth definitely wins on attendance, but back then you could sell 10 million records, too.”

It should be noted that Madonna doesn’t sell nearly as many records as she once did, and has had to reinvent her music into the kind of dance sound that Europeans love. On a side note here, I think dance music will be the next big craze after hip-hop hits a more noticeable slide.

The future Rock & Roll Hall of Famer doesn’t need the label system anymore, and Madonna’s name is synonymous with pop music, or just plain music. Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are part of a different story, since the rock genre has declined greatly within the last decade. They both suffer from what Moby called the Pearl Jam effect where the artist’s sales are greatly affected by the artist’s audience. Even if you can’t definitively prove it, it’s probably generally accepted that a majority of Radiohead and NIN’s audiences are predominantly male, which is the gender that is more likely to download music.

You can’t defeat file-sharing completely. In Radiohead’s case, half of those downloading their latest album are paying for it, while the other half isn’t. I think in the end, the band is going down the right road. Who cares if that many people aren’t paying for your music? Do you think those not paying for it would have paid for it anyway? The real fans pay. At the very least, those not paying for it are listening to your music, and even lower than that, they consider themselves enough of a fan to even have the mp3s on their computers. In the purest sense, it’s exposure.

Even in this Web 2.0 world where every major company seems to play catch-up to the start-ups, content should always come first. But who cares about the next great platform if no one cares about what the platform holds? Hell, even Facebook is rumored to be venturing into iTunes territory.

The music industry has a lot to catching up to do in this digital age, and treating their paying customers like thieves is bad business sense. My advice: follow Madonna’s lead and reinvent yourself. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) should take heed too.

One, make better content. Two, make a better experience. If people have a good time in the theater, they’ll watch more movies in cinemas. Sticky floors and cramped seats detract audiences. Likewise, there should be more to the music. Music videos should be innovative. Interviews with the bands should be interesting and plentiful. Photos should be intimate and not generic. Concerts should be enjoyable and fun.

You could go on and on, but the music industry shouldn’t take what Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Madonna are doing lightly. It should read more like a warning. Embrace Music 2.0.

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About Tan The Man

Tan The Man writes mostly about film and music. He has previously covered events like Noise Pop, Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, South By Southwest, TBD Festival, Wizard World Comic Con and WonderCon.
  • I prefer the CD format as well Tan, because I prefer something tangible that I can actually hold in my hands. But I also agree that the record industry is missing the boat by not embracing the technology, and especially by biting the hand that feeds by going after their own customers.

    I maintain that there is still a significant portion of the audience that uses downloading primarily to sample new music before they buy the physical product — it’s like taking that new car out for a test drive before purchasing. I paid $5. for the new Radiohead album because I wanted to hear the music. If they do put out a physical CD (as is rumored to happen next year), I will still buy it. Most of the Radiohead fans that I know, will do the same thing.

    The way that the record industry has been tanking over the past several years should also tell them that the way to go is to develop acts for the long term, rather than trying to quickly cash in on the flavor of the moment, or the latest cookie cutter boy band. Those types of groups never last while a band like The Rolling Stones, an artist like Springsteen or Dylan, or even bands like Radiohead and NiN for that matter, always stand the test of time.

    It aint rocket science, although when you eliminate the music guys from the music labels (as has happened over the past decade of corporate mergers) — well, what you see is what you get.

    Good article Tan.


  • Along the same lines as what Glen mentioned, here’s my gut response to artists and record companies regarding the illegal downloading situation:

    Make albums that have more than one surefire radio hit, perhaps an album that sounds like a cohesive effort.

    Maybe if record companies returned to developing quality young acts while still promoting their proven ones, people would be more willing to purchase an entire album (digitally OR physically) instead of downloading a myriad of random tracks by various artists, many of which won’t have a career in a few years.


  • Great article Tan…
    I realize that you only included your prediction about Dance music being the “next craze” as a side note, but I find your opinion intriguing… You should consider writing a future article on this subject…

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself. I knew that you were a smart man, Gibson.


  • I think this article is spot on. I can’t really add anything to the conversation.

    As to that side note about dance music becoming big with hip-hop’s decline, I’m not so sure about that. Add me to the list that would like to see a full-fledged article about that to support that thought. I bet it would be fascinating reading.

  • Dr.Jimmy

    The age of the album is over. The major labels are the last ones to grasp this concept. The single is what the kids want and the marketplace always eventually gets what it wants.

    The major labels decided to drag their feet in regards to downloading hoping it was maybe a fad, they’re now paying the price for their ignorance.

  • Has dance music ever really gone away? It seems to have maintained a pretty even level of high popularity because it is throwaway music that feeds off of the single format.

    I don’t think the album is ever going to go away. It may disappear for pop/dance formats, which is probably for the better since those genres tend to be the ones that focus on one particularly noteworthy song on each album anyway, but rock, metal, jazz, etc., that really embrace the album format as an art because they make statements, and the fans of those do too. I can only see the album dying out when those fans are completely gone – and that’s going to be a long, long time from now.

  • Thanks all for the input. I might have to put my money where my mouth is and write about dance now… Oh the expectations.

  • daryl d

    Excellent article. I wish dance music would make a comeback. I do miss the days of the CD. I miss the day a new cd came out by my favorite artist and going to Tower Records at midnight on Tuesday to get it. I miss putting a CD in my stereo and hearing the songs for the FIRST time. That hasn’t happened in ten years.

    The live concert experience is going to be the big money maker in the future. Everything else will revolve around it.

  • daryl d

    On a side note, I miss Rock music too. But it has peeped its head a lot more in the past couple years, where I don’t think I can name a big dance hit in the past year that isn’t hip-hop influenced. Rock music will always live no matter what, but Dance music, in America at least, seems on its death bed.

  • I’m embracing this digital format boom, in truth. I already downloaded all my music, and purchased CDs if I liked what I heard, or if I trusted the artist enough to know I’d like it. I don’t think the album format will ever die though, as /so/ many people adore a good album. It has more weight than a single, or a lone song; it’s an experience. Even if it’s in mp3 format, I think albums will still be around.

  • A very good article. I think one big problem the record companies have is it’s not about the artist; the record companies rip the artists off and put them in debt and everyone knows this, so there is little sympathy for the record companies. as I’ve said before, I think solutions like Radiohead used might work because I think the fans will want their fav bands to stay in business.

  • Lloyd Shugart

    This topic is really confusing the real issue.

    The internet and ability to sell/download music is the outgrowth of the past, including orgs like RIAA….but it is also the future that takes some of the power of those groups like RIAA, and puts it in the hands of the copyright author/owners and intended true beneficiary of copyrights…the authors…in your case the music makers.

    I am going to suggest that any music author that wants to make a living from their music support the groups like RIAA….WOW….It goes like this, the ability to sell/download music over the internet…..is making the cost of getting your music into the ears of your listeners, cheaper to the listener. When the need of the middle man is gone, it results in more income to the musician in the end…this serves all involved.

    Let the orgs like the RIAA pay to protect the industry….from their past gains. They are well capitalized to pay the costs of this protection for you now. I can tell you that as a single/independent musician you will not be able to afford the litigation costs. If the internet music sell/download is allowed to collapse into “Anything On The Net Is Free……You will forfeit your right to make money from your work independently.

    I am not a music maker…I am a photographer…and I support the true core value of copyrights….”which is give the creators the chance to give to the public by protecting their right to the financial gain from the work”.

    Lloyd Shugart