In what could either be described as "the opening salvo in the all-out war for the future of the music industry" or "the most bizarre marketing strategy of all time," Radiohead will release their much-anticipated new album, In Rainbows, via their Web site on October 10, less than three months after they finished mixing and mastering it.
And while a band fast-tracking its new record isn't exactly breaking news these days (Montreal indie-poppers Stars did it earlier this year with In Our Bedroom After the War), what makes Radiohead's release of Rainbows particularly amazing is that fans will get to determine how much the album will cost to download. Seriously!
The album, helmed by longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, is available in two versions via the band's new, rainbow-y site: as a standard download or as a deluxe edition that comes with Rainbows on both CD and vinyl, plus a second disc of new songs and a lyric book. The deluxe edition runs £40 (about $81). The download version costs whatever you want it to, the price field left blank with only a pair of notes from the band — "It's up to you" and "No, really. It's up to you" — serving as a Jiminy Cricket to potential customers.
As for the actual music on In Rainbows, the group's publicist said on Monday (October 1) that no advance copies of the album — in any format — will be made available, and journalists will have to wait to download the album on October 10. The band did preview much of the new material on tour last year (see "Radiohead Debut Seven New Songs, Please Crowd With Hits At NYC Show" and "Radiohead Marathon, Beck Puppet Show, Partial Phish Jam Mix It Up At Bonnaroo").
With the possible exception of Prince's decision earlier this year to distribute copies of his new LP, Planet Earth, free with a British newspaper, it's a move that's a first for an artist of Radiohead's stature, and it opens the discussion to several issues the record industry has been grappling with for years: Who owns music? How much should music cost? Do bands of a certain caliber (e.g. Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Sonic Youth) really need a label to survive? (Currently, Radiohead are without a label, having fulfilled their six-album deal with EMI with 2003's Hail to the Thief, although rumors continue to buzz about an imminent deal for the band.)
Fans who purchase either edition of Rainbows will be given a special code to download it from the band's site on October 10. The download version of Rainbows will be DRM-free, which will allow fans to share it freely. Given the rather, uh, laissez-faire approach Radiohead have adopted for the album, we're not surprised.
According to a spokesperson for the band, Radiohead are also planning "a traditional CD release" of the album for early 2008.
Track list for Radiohead's In Rainbows, according to their publicist:
"All I Need"
"House of Cards"
"Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
The deluxe Discbox version of the album also features a second disc with the following songs:
"Down Is the New Up"
"Up on the Ladder"
"Bangers and Mash"
"4 Minute Warning"