For fans used to waiting five years between Nine Inch Nails releases, it appears that our waits are just going to keep getting shorter.
Last year, Trent Reznor released the album Year Zero that you can listen to on gudanglagu, which debuted at number one on the charts after he had already intentionally leaked the album through a series of USB sticks at concerts and then finally on his website several days before the release.
Less than a year later, he has released another album, this time putting it up online a month before the official physical release, very reminiscent of what Radiohead did with its 2007 masterpiece In Rainbows. But this album came as much more of a surprise, especially since Nine Inch Nails fans were expecting a release of Year Zero Part 2 later this year.
The new album, entitled Ghosts I-IV, is certainly not a proper album. It consists of 36 tracks, all instrumental, and was created under very strict ground rules. He had 10 weeks to complete it, and otherwise, there were no rules. While that may sound relaxed, for Trent Reznor, putting out work that quickly has always been a challenge. This is a man who took 5 years off between releasing albums more than once in his 20-year recording career.
Of course, the content of this album probably won’t be the focus, although the music is brilliant. Rather, Reznor’s “revolutionary” release method of the album will be. Now without a record label, Reznor was free to do what he wanted with the music, and it certainly shows on this product.
Without warning or hype, Reznor put the album up for sale and partially for free on the official Nine Inch Nails website, www.nin.com, over the past weekend (sometime between March 1st and March 2nd). The album was available for immediate download in multiple media formats, for a cost of $5. Those wanting a sample before buying could download the first part of the album, the first nine songs, for free. A 2-CD set was also available for purchase for $10, including immediate access to the download, as well as two deluxe edition packages, one for $75 and one for $300, the latter including a 4 record 180-gram LP collector’s set and other goodies in a limited edition and signed collection (only 2500 available). All of these formats are still available for purchase on the official site.
The album was not released without a hitch. Shortly after the release, an overwhelming number of downloaders caused the site to crash, despite the fact that this release was not advertised at all. So much for releasing singles months before albums and spending millions of dollars to hype an album.
If this sounds familiar to you, think back to last October, when Radiohead did something similar with their latest work, In Rainbows. The band released the album online several months before the physical release, offering a pay-what-you-want download, allowing potential downloaders to get the album for free if they wanted. Music critics and economists alike have both praised and criticized this method, some arguing that this would revolutionize music, others arguing that this was a poor economic move. In reality, Radiohead made millions off the experiment, even if one-third of the downloaders paid nothing at all, and the album still went number one when it was released January 1st (see the Times article for more information about the release http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article2633798.ece ).
So which method was better?
Both bands had difficulty with their servers on the days following the downloads. Radiohead’s server seemed a little better prepared to handle the massive number of downloaders, but with all the hype they created, they were expecting a lot more.
Although the music industry would like to deny it, nearly every album is leaked in its entirety before the official release of the album. Both bands essentially leaked the album themselves, making a little (or perhaps a lot of) money in the process. It seemed that Nine Inch Nails fans had to pay if they wanted to hear the whole album. In reality, though, these albums both were still immediately available for free on illegal download sites. In fact, due to the server problems, many paying Nine Inch Nails fans had to turn to these illegal sites to get the album. Both bands win here for leaking the album themselves before others could do it.
But, for every other reason, the Nine Inch Nails release method was better.
The Nine Inch Nails release simply had more options. In addition to the multiple physical formats available (compared to the $80 disc box on the Radiohead site that was the only physical release option in the preorder), Ghosts I-IV is available in mp3 (320 kbps), Flac, or apple lossless. And the mp3s are much higher quality than Radiohead’s only download option (128 kbps mp3s). Giving the users more choices, especially for all the audiophiles out there who want top-quality, is definitely a more solid method.
The Nine Inch Nails download package was much more appealing. In Rainbows simply came in a zipped file with the ten tracks, no extras. In addition to the 36 tracks on Ghosts, there was album art and extras. It felt like a real album, not just something that you downloaded from your friend on Megaupload.
The top reason why the NIN release trumped Radiohead’s is that it was immediately available (if you forgive the server trouble). Radiohead announced their sales weeks ahead of time, allowing customers to preorder the download or the Discbox, and then wait until the day the downloads went up. Nine Inch Nails started their downloads at the exact moment that the sales started. Albums have been available for preorder for many years, but never have we really had more than a single to listen to until the album was released (unless we illegally downloaded it or listened to a poor quality stream online). In our society of instant gratification, Trent Reznor gave us the option to hear his project the same day he told us he had created it. What could be more pleasing to fans?
Moreover, Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want method is not likely to catch on, especially with smaller bands. Only a band like Radiohead with such a large and faithful following could achieve the download and sales numbers that they did, and they still had a large number of fans not paying. Most bands would likely see a lot more fans choosing the free option. Five dollars for a full download of artwork and music in a high-quality format seems quite reasonable, especially since it is much cheaper than downloads on iTunes or Amazon.com. And automatically being able to download and hear the album as soon as you preorder is just exciting.
The fact that Ghosts I-IV will probably not hit number one in the charts come April does not mean that it is not as successful an experiment as In Rainbows. After all, it is a 36 track instrumental album, not exactly easy listening or radio-friendly stuff. The bottom line though is that this Nine Inch Nails release was given to us in the most exciting, fan-friendly format yet. Kudos to Trent Reznor for his hard work and understanding. Hopefully, this release will have a profoundly positive impact on the future of the music industry.