Music business survival tactics
The artist: Radiohead
The tactic: Completely disregarding the music businesses standard three/four-month lead time for new releases, Radiohead announced on Oct. 1 that its new album would be released in 10 days. The distribution system? The Internet. The cost? Whatever you want.
The review: Downloads went off without any major hitches, even if Radiohead is keeping a lid on just how many hard drives were graced with In Rainbows. And OK, with a higher-quality CD coming out Jan. 1, ultimately the move wasnt quite as revolutionary as we press folk made it out to be, since Radiohead simply opted for a tiered release plan. But the band put the fans first, and no other group of its stature has so bluntly worked around the standard industry model.
Grade: A (AFP / Getty Images)
The artists: Kanye West, 50 Cent
The tactic: FEUD! 50 Cent declared he would retire from making solo albums if Kanye Wests new album outsold his in the first week.
The review: At first, it seemed like buying Wests Graduation over 50 Cent’s “Curtis” would benefit a good cause. But weve all long suspected that hip-hop feuds were publicity stunts, and this time, the artists involved had no qualms about admitting that the sales battle was little more than an effort to get fans into stores. So yeah, the better album won, but it now appears unlikely that 50 Cent will actually retire. Therefore:
Grade: F (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
The artist: The Eagles
The tactic: Record labels may be in trouble and Tower Records is no more. But retail behemoth Wal-Mart seems to be doing just fine. So for the Eagles first album in nearly 30 years, the group partnered with Wal-Mart for an exclusive release.
The review: Dumping a record label for one of the worlds largest corporations is certainly not a play for credibility, and big box stores such as Wal-Mart are often blamed for killing off the mom-and-pop music stores. But the backlash was surprisingly minimal. The bands The Long Road Out of Eden has become one of the top-selling albums of 2007 -- not bad for a record that came out Oct. 30. Yet from now on, the Eagles will forever be associated with the house that Sam Walton built, and all -- good and bad -- that it represents.
Grade: C- (Jeff Adkins / Associated Press)
The artist: Prince
The tactic: For the release of his new album, Planet Earth, Prince teamed with U.K. newspaper the Mail to bundle the Sunday, July 15, edition with his CD.
The review: The move caused the ire of retailers and prompted
Grade: B+ (letter grade knocked because it only benefited the English) (Peter Kramer / Getty Images)
The artist: Nine Inch Nails
The tactic: The release of “Year Zero” back in the spring was turned into an elaborate interactive game. Learning about the album turned into a giant online scavenger hunt that entered the real world via cryptic clothing and hiding USB drives at concerts.
The review: Year Zero ranks up there with Trent Reznors best work with Nine Inch Nails, and the marketing campaign took a larger view of the album, turning the world into an elaborate NIN-playing field -- at least for those in the know. Reznor was teasing fans rather than forcing them to buy another product, and those not interested in the game werent left feeling like they missed out on some exclusive music.
Grade: A (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times)
The artist: Bright Eyes
The tactic: Bright Eyes set out to make the CD package for Cassadaga indispensable, dressing it with fanciful artwork that could only be seen with a viewfinder -- one that cost Saddle Creek about 25 extra cents per disc.
The review: Though it probably didnt snare Bright Eyes any more fans, inventive packaging is becoming rarer and rarer for the music business. Additionally, it likely inspired a few more fans to actually buy a physical product over a download. In its first week in stores back in May, downloads accounted for 24% of Cassadagas total sales, which was lower than other popular indie acts such as the Arcade Fire and the Shins, who saw early digital sales in the 30% range, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Grade: B (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)