Saturday, 18 September 2010

What will Radiohead do next?

It’s just over a year ago since I wrote the post ‘thoughts from a beach’ – in which I referred to an Interview with Thom Yorke in ‘The Believer’ music issue (still waiting for the2010 issue from Amazon – McSweeney’s publishing is pure gold), and wondered a bit about what Radiohead would do next. It’s something I again came to be thinking about – on the very same beach – just week before last.

This week, viewing the band’s fan-sourced Prague concert video (thoughtfully sound-tracked by the band hence worthwhile streaming quality if you can get it through decent speakers), I went beyond wondering. I am in fact, now quite eager to get my fix of the world’s most talented band once again. It’s been over a year since Radiohead began new studio sessions with long-time producer Nigel Godrich so something must be due fairly soon, but when? However, it’s not so much when as what that interests me most.

Since In Rainbows, there is a massive distraction around Radiohead now – about the way they deliver music. Echoing the music scene itself all too often, there’s a fascination with how the band will release its new music – by what method – possibly more than an interest in the music itself.

But in terms of release strategy, what is there left for the band to do, having made their big statement with “In Rainbows”? Free agents as they are – and now self-appointed business model mavericks – the sky’s no limit – but is there anything that hasn’t already been done?

We’ve had free songs, free albums, track-by-track ‘episodic releases’ – dispensing with the album format – and the release of song-stems for fans to mix themselves. We’ve had crowd-sourced albums, pay-what-you-feel albums and a song-a-day for a year. It’s been done to death. It’s almost boring. Besides, the pay-what-you-like strategy with In Rainbows clearly underwhelmed. It was in fact the made to order box-sets that really ‘performed’.

I was impressed with the value-added packages The Arcade Fire released (through Topspin) – but not as impressed as the record itself, you will have gathered. I want the same from Radiohead. With all my interest in music business models and product innovation, what I need most of all, as a life-long fan, is an unceremonious release of a classic Radiohead album. But is that what they have planned I wonder?

Checking out the competition
Most musicians, especially popular ones who’ve achieved big success and have a reputation to live up to, can be fiercely competitive. Creatively that is. They wouldn’t be as crude as to be commercially competitive of course!

At Wilco’s show on Tuesday night at the Royal Albert Hall I was wondering what was going on through Ed O’Brien’s head as he nodded along throughout the duration of a wonderfully consistent evening’s music.

In recent times – like Radiohead – Wilco has delved deep into sonic experimentation and have gone way out there creatively – notably with records ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ and ‘A Ghost Is Born’ – but never at the expense of writing truly great songs – consistently.

It would be nice to think Ed took inspiration from the evening and that between their extraordinary creative individual and collective genius – Radiohead’s prime strategy next time out is to make a major statement first and foremost through the music.

It’s good to be back
A brief thanks to all for sticking with me through a busy summer in which writing JB posts has had to take a back seat. Hopefully I’ll post more often towards the end of this year – a vintage one music wise in my view and well worth more reflection.

Meantime – for fresh discovery I recommend the new blog streaming service. Currently in free beta, it is a wonderful way to discover all kinds of stuff you couldn’t even hope to find in most music service catalogues – what a great idea. Anything that scales blogs is most clever. I’ll need to consider its commercial potential for a later post.


The World's Greatest Music said...

I am a lifelong radio fan who found things very tough going from Kid A onwards. The genius of the In Rainbows release strategy is it was such a statement of intent, and caught so much attention, that it brought a bigger audience to their music than they'd had since OK Computer. i.e. I properly listened to the album and was delighted to find it contained a return to proper songwriting.

What makes you think the pay what you want strategy underwhelmed? I'm sure they made more per unit out of "pay what you want" than out of any of their previous albums. And that's leaving aside the media phenomenon it created, and the boxset sales, and the fact that they still had a worldwide no. 1 album the conventional way weeks later.

Keith Jopling said...

You're right - the proceeds flowing from the digital sales probably did outweigh what they had under the band's previous record label deal - Thom Yorke said that. But they would have been shocked, I would think, by the average price they got for the album download. Had it been anything like respectable it would have been made well known. Creatively I though it was better than the previous two records - but I'm convinced the 5* reviews and best of the year ratings were under the halo of the release strategy. I'd like to think they still have a much better album in them - if they release another 'album' at all. Thanks for reading and commenting!

The World's Greatest Music said...

Whether the average price paid per user was high or low, I don't believe Radiohead would ever have been so base as to release that information. Indeed, they are strongly averse to publicity about these kinds of issues - have you ever seen a press release issued, or a corporate PR employed, by Radiohead or Courtyard Management? If they had employed corporate PR then I doubt there would be this myth that the In Rainbows release underachieved.

Of course I agree with you that the method of the release affected the reception of the album. I for one would not have given the album so much time had it been just another Radiohead album for Parlophone. But that was part of the genius of the strategy!