May 8, 2008

Happiness In Slavery

Posted in Music tagged , at 12:12 am by Andrew McMillen

My eyebrows shot up in surprise and a huge grin spread across my face when I read this news today. Nine Inch Nails released a new album digitally for free overnight.

“Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years — this one’s on me.” – Trent Reznor

Best of all, this is a NIN album featuring performances by Josh Freese, Alessandro Cortini and Robin Finck. Instumental album Ghosts I-IV was enjoyable and all – I find it to be a great soundtrack for study and writing – but this is the band in their industrial-rock element. Sure, Mr Cynic, they may effectively be Year Zero b-sides, and I guess time will tell on that one as fans and journalists scramble for information, but it’s still a fucking cool thing to do.

There’s several aspects of this release to discuss, probably ground that’s already been trod when Reznor dropped Ghosts in March. I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t follow the release beyond the download link on nin.com.

Obviously not just any artist could do this; it’s a big deal because NIN are popular, and Reznor is vocally opposed to conventional music distribution models (for good reason). I’m more drawn to the element of surprise that surrounded The Slip‘s release. Shit like this only makes me appreciate an artist’s music more, since I know that they care about their fans. I’m more inclined than ever to attend their shows and buy physical copies of their music.

Reznor is a fucking visionary. His actions, and the actions of Radiohead, have set the tone for music distribution models to follow in the future. There’s the hurdle as to how unknown artists can benefit from the freely distributing their work without restrictions, but once that’s figured out, the whole game changes. I actively dislike Radiohead, but l still downloaded and listened to In Rainbows a couple of times last year purely because I could.

I suppose that, if anything, the barrier to entry – or more aptly, the barrier to success – for musicians will raise a little as a result of these tactics. Yeah, the barriers went down once people could record and upload their music onto MySpace, but for new artists now, it’ll be a matter of saving enough cash to stay afloat while their work slowly spreads throughout the interwebs. From there, they’ll require a manager to book tours so that they can start making money via ticket and merch sales – which have always been the primary moneymakers for everyone less than your U2s and Eagles.

Clearly I haven’t fully developed these thoughts. I enjoy musing on developments within the industry that I gain so much satisfaction from. But even that statement is flawed; it’s not the industry that satisfies me, but the artists within who produce the music that I consume.

In a strange coincidence, I decided to listen to Nine Inch Nails on a whim yesterday evening, while walking through Brisbane City to attend a show. First Discipline, and then Broken, their first EP. Little did I know that Trent Reznor was merely hours away from delivering another significant shock to the musical landscape.

Slave screams / he spends his life learning conformity
Slave screams / he claims he has his own identity
Slave screams / he’s going to cause the system to fall
Slave screams / but he’s glad to be chained to that wall

Happiness In Slavery, 1992.

Discounting the last line, it’d be poetic if Reznor was referring to himself, and the impact he’d have, in that sixteen-year old song.

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