Radiohead -- One and Done

So much for Radiohead's publicity-laced experiment to give their music away for free online -- or more precisely, let their fans determine if they are going to pay for it.

The band recently announced there will be no more pay-if-you-like releases from Radiohead.

I read an account of the story online the other day and the reporter wrote "The band remained quiet about whether the experiment was a success with so many fans opting not to pay anything for "In Rainbows"."

Well, let's see.

If it were a success, don't you think Radiohead would be repeating the offer? Instead, they're moving on. But to what?

The Radiohead experiment may have also helped launch Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails strategy of letting the marketplace decide. Coldplay is now promising to give away its new single "Violet Hill". The band's website crashed once the fans learned of the news.

But who needs free music from the artists when young people are able to easily use bit torrent programs to steal what they want?

Radiohead may have been reacting to its departure from EMI when it decided to act in loco-recordis -- which is my Latin phrase for in place of a record label.

But in spite of all the recent defections -- Madonna to Live Nation for touring, U2 to Live Nation without leaving its record label, Jay Z to Live Nation as an entrepreneurial association -- maybe artists are proving they really need record labels after all.

Of course they do.

But not how most of the labels are operating today.

Last in on digital downloading.

Resistant to mash-ups.

Incompetent to be fronting 360 deals for established artists.

Still afraid to cut their trade association -- the RIAA -- off at the knees on their ineffective piracy lawsuit barrage.

Artists need labels because they are proving that they had better stick to singing. But the labels haven't been keeping up so credit some artists with at least trying to be innovative when their labels refuse.

The labels are caught in a disaster of their own creation.

They should have licensed the original Napster back in the day and even though they half-heartily tried, they should have persisted.

They should have developed Plan B -- when they realized that digital downloading would cut into their CD sales. Year after year, they either shelve or do not have a Plan B.

The labels should have increased their budgets for finding and developing new acts. They were helpless to do so because they themselves made cutting expenses a priority (are you reading this radio consolidators?).

Because in the end, if you want to sell lots music, you have to make lots of music.

Not cutback finding bands or developing artists.

Not become obsessed with retaining CD sales or relying to heavily on ring tone sales.

So, Radiohead is dead in their imitation of Clive Davis. Hey, even Clive is being kicked aside -- as if the labels have a deep bench.

What we are learning is that in spite of their recent ineptitude, the music industry may yet need the record labels if there is to be a future.

What will it be?

Stuffing CDs into tabloid newspapers as Prince did to sell concert tickets?

Putting a tip jar on a web site and asking fans to choose to pay?

Doing deals with Live Nation -- which are nothing more than expensive long-term contracts for big name acts and not a solution to the distribution problem?

I don't think so.

Does the record industry possibly have one last good try at adapting to the digital world?

Until new artists are discovered and talented acts are developed, music cannot thrive.

Whether music is available on a CD or online is irrelevant -- if it's not (to borrow an outdated vinyl phrase) in the grooves.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: First you must check your mail or spam filter to verify your subscription immediately after signing up before daily service can begin.
Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.