When Radiohead released In Rainbows using the pay what you will download format, it was announced that Trent Reznor of NIN would be releasing something similar for his next album. And so he has, releasing the 36 track Ghosts I-IV album. While Radiohead went simple and released the tracks in a basic “name your price” style, with a physical CD following, Reznor has upped the ante with a multi-tiered release of his album last week. To date, he has realized $1.6 million in orders and over 780,000 transactions. The method of release, the depth of the material and the options for the listener of Ghosts make the release of In Rainbows look like a half-hearted marketing ploy, even if Radiohead’s initial intention was otherwise.
Ghosts I-IV is not just available as an MP3 download, nor is it, as Radiohead’s was, available for free. What Reznor has done is to release various formats of the album for different prices. At the low range, you can get the first 9/36 tracks for free download. After that, it will only cost you a mere 5 dollars to get all 36 tracks in one of 3 of your choice downloads (Apple Lossless, MP3 or Flac Lossless). All these tracks are DRM free and come with a 40 page PDF booklet as well as various digital goodies like wallpaper. If 5 bucks is too cheap for you, you can bump to 10 and not only be given access to the 36 tracks immediately, but you will also receive a 2 disc hard copy sometime in early April.
For the heavy NIN fan, you can order the $75 deluxe edition, which includes “Ghosts I-IV in a hardcover fabric slipcase containing: 2 audio CDs, 1 data DVD with all 36 tracks in multi-track format, and a Blu-ray disc with Ghosts I-IV in high-definition 96/24 stereo and accompanying slideshow.” Finally, for the audiophile/obsessive in all of us,$300 bucks will get you a limited edition (2500) package, which has already sold out.
While Radiohead routinely operates far outside the typical paradigm for musicians and music distribution, Nine Inch Nails has always followed a more typical release path and popular appeal. Because of this, the marketing, structuring and release of Ghosts trumps that of the In Rainbows release, as Reznor performs the release with a greater eye to packaging and multiple options for the consumer. While you can get 9 free tracks, the majority of fans will have no problem shelling out 5 bucks for 36 of them. This offers Reznor the opportunity to record more profit from the sales, as well as provide more accurate statistics when it comes to breaking down who bought what, and how much consumers were willing to pay for his work. Reznor, following this release, has called Radiohead’s release of “In Rainbows” as more “gimmick” than consumer gift, and “insincere” due to the fact that there was no album art, the sound quality was downgraded and the main mode of sales has now transferred to a typical label release album.
What’s more is that Reznor has opened up the experience of the album to everyone. Billed as a series of soundscapes to be imagined with various land and cityscapes, Ghosts is a completely instrumental album of various tempos and moods. It covers just about every style NIN fans will recognize from all of his albums, with airy and spacious piano laced tracks to songs that drive from the electronic noise, drums and synths. I’m not going to actively review the 36 tracks here other than to say that they range from instrumental NIN tracks that could be found on any previous album to songs that are reminiscent of Aphex Twin‘s Selected Ambient Works series.
And here’s where the mix and match element of this concept album really gets exciting…Reznor has invited listeners to create their own videos and post them to YouTube to be evaluated and have the winners presented a few months from now. He’s left song titles off to allow an even blanker canvas for people wanting to make movies to them, and the posting and selection will culminate in a virtual “film festival” of the winners. Now not only has he allowed the consumer to dictate the distribution of his work, but he has created a forum for direct creative interaction.
The fact that the method here has been so well received by consumers, as well as profitable for NIN, leads one to believe that his is but the first in what will become a great series of multi-tiered, optional music purchases that allow far greater interaction with the band and music than ever before. While Radiohead may have opened the door for this kind of idea, Reznor’s dedication to taking the experience a step further for the end listener is a model that will be interesting to follow in the months and years to come.