Nine Inch Nails’ Experiment: A Bigger Bang than Radiohead?

After the Saul Williams album he produced didn’t tear the charts, a frustrated Trent Reznor got pissy, saying that fans didn’t want to support artists at all, even when they provided a quick, direct, cheap way to get the music online. Williams took a much more mature view, saying that offering music to fans online for what they wanna pay is a new experiment and that it will pay off long term. As such, I didn’t have much hope when Raznor offered the new Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts I-IV, online the same way from his own site, especially as it was an instrumental set. Boy was I wrong… and I’m glad too.

It turns out that ol’ Trent (who’s exactly the same age as me) got over 750,000 paying customers to fork over five bucks for the album (36 tracks worth no less) though he also offered a teaser of the first ten songs free and a limited edition set for $300. Do the math and you’ll see that he cleaned up, big time. Much more than if he was working with any of his old labels.

Music-wise, I gotta say that the TR’s done better though it’s an interesting curiosity- an album full of oddly moody instrumentals with Adrian Belew as guest guitarist (he should enlist Bill Laswell next time too). As such, I didn’t hold out much hope that it was gonna sell much. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong. There’s definitely plenty of NIN fans out there and good for them for supporting Trent and this kind of online endeavor.

Again, this is a relatively new experiment but when big players like him follow Radiohead’s lead on this, there’s definitely a movement afoot. What’s more, unlike Radiohead, who never released sales figures from their last album (they just said they were pleased with the result), we know for a fact now that Reznor did really well on his own. Because he went the DIY route and has proven, concrete results, he might not be making history the way Radiohead did but he’s provided a much stronger case for big-name acts doing the same. That’s gonna be a big change for the industry. Other band have talked about following along but now they have even more reason to do so. Labels, especially the big ones, should be concerned about this but if they were smart, they’d also think of ways to better support their artists or new ones they hope to lure (health care, anyone?).

Don’t worry about Radiohead though. The publicity generated from their last album will definitely help them rack up good sales for their upcoming tour and they’re also offering a few bucks for fans who’ll do their next video.