If I still had the weekly gig with eVent! I know what I'd have written about last night, it would be the news that Trent Reznor's new album(s) from Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV made him around $1.6 million dollars in the first week of release [wm]. Radiohead were the first big group that I listen to who did a no-label internet release and they've been secretive about how much they made, but Reznor the man behind Nine Inch Nails has been much more open about how much he's managed to make.
Over the last few years it's been sort of accepted that if you're okay with simply making a living with music, you probably did not need a record label. Someone like Jonathan Coulton has been able to make a decent living playing to his niche but there's was a lot of doubt as to whether a major artist could manage to make the sort of money they were used to making with a major label, if they went on their own. It's been a long time since Nine Inch Nails was a top tier act, probably since 1994's The Downward Spiral [wp] but they're a well respected group with a avid fan-base. Reznor's albums sell fairly well, but there's no way that was getting the sort of money from Universal (his old label) that he got from doing this.
Now it's important to point out that Reznor made one of the four albums available for download for free, and that the rest of the tracks were on bit torrent sites just like any other album. People stole these discs, got them for free and yet he still made money on them. The mantra of the labels like Universal that you are stealing their music (I mean you clearly have an internet connection you must be a pirate) and that's what's affecting record sales is completely bogus. Yeah some people steal music, and don't pay for it. Maybe some people who before the internet would have bought the album downloaded it without paying, but music fans do in large part believe that their favourite artists deserve to make money from their music.
I paid $10 through NIN.com [nin] for the full four album downloads plus a fancy .pdf formatted liner notes. The equivalent through the iTunes music store would have been about $40, and truthfully I would have paid that being a NIN fan since Ryan Corbett introduced me to them on the grade eleven band trip. Back then I had girl issues that needed angry techno/industrial music to deal with properly and now though I'm fully healed, and have a girlfriend to boot [ls], I still enjoy the NIN. Instead though I got for an amazing price, the money all went to the artist and it's not in the iTunes DRM cage which means I can make ringtones out of it.
The advantage a band with a strong fan-base like NIN has is that the marketing is largely taken care of. I first saw mention of Ghosts I-IV on Wil Wheaton's Twitter stream [ww], though I didn't know what he was talking about. Bit by bit I saw more of the people I follow on Twitter mention listening to "Ghosts" and eventually I turned to Google to figure out what they were talking about. A few short minutes later and I was on NIN's site downloading the album, and word-of-mouth-marketing had another victory and Trent Reznor had $10 of my dollars, not the $2 he would have had had I paid $50 for the album at the local HMV.
Though their niche is a lot bigger than someone like Jonathan Coulton, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are still niche artists. I'm really looking forward to the days when a major artist, a U2 for example, figures out that they could be making the music they want to be with no label interference and be making more money if they just cut the strings and forged their own path without a major label.
- Photos by: Jeffery Simpson
- What: Nine Inch Nails at Pacific Colisium in Vancouver
- Taken: September 26th, 2005