Years ago I went through a phase where I was really into Nine Inch Nails. I was younger and more emotionally repressed then (ok, maybe I was just younger) so loud, angry industrial music did more for me than it does today. I have a tendency now to listen to Herb Alpert & Tito Puente without any apparent irony.
But I really respect Trent Reznor (the guy behind NIN) for being one of the big artists, up there with Prince and Beck and Radiohead, who are trying to remake the music industry and actively experimenting with new ways of promoting and getting their music out to fans.
His 2007 album Year Zero included several songs issued as multi-track downloads online so fans could remix them, and launched with an alternate reality game seeded with flash USB drives left in washrooms at his concerts, and spawned its own fan-driven wiki in the style of Lostpedia.
Since then he’s left his record company and gone out on his own. His latest album, Ghosts, came out a week ago, and once again experiments with lots of different online distribution tactics, from free downloads to $75 deluxe editions to $300 ultra-deluxe limited editions. After the first week, it sounds like it’s been successful – they’re reporting $1.6 million in sales so far.
The most interesting piece of the launch involves calling for people to create visuals to accompany the album and post them on YouTube. He says it’s not a corporate-type contest and there will be no prizes, but rather it’s an exercise in collaboration between him and his fans. He doesn’t know what will happen next, but if he gets a lot of content back, he’ll select from the submissions and find some ways to use them – he’s thrown out ideas like anonline film festival, a TV special, or showing them as a backdrop to a special live concert.