Music at the Speed of Hype

A few weeks ago, fan site Radiohead At Ease — among other sources — reported on an unsubstantiated rumor that Radiohead’s long-awaited eighth album was already complete. Then, this morning, the Internet woke up to find that apparently the album is finished after all and fans can pre-order it immediately. Physical copies of the new record won’t be available for a few months, but the songs will be available for download this Saturday. Wow.

This is the way music works in the 21st Century: no waiting through months and months of unconfirmed deadlines, no release dates announced several quarters in advance, no slogging through interminable marketing campaigns trying to build up anticipation, no manufacturing timelines holding up the delivery of the songs, no record companies just generally getting in the way. When the music’s done, it ships. This will soon be the norm for record releases but at the moment it still strikes me as kind of amazing. Now, if the band could just finish recording their records a bit more quickly, we’d really be living in the future.

  1. I was chatting with a friend who has some music industry experience about this earlier today. He was saying that Radiohead isn’t the best model – chances are if you’re a new band, this won’t work for you. Radiohead had 5 label-backed albums before it went out on its own – NIN/Trent Reznor also had a similar situation.

    It would be great if all bands worked like this, but I don’t think it’s realistic (yet).

  2. @Matthew: You may be right, but the advent of Kickstarter-funded albums has also done a great thing for the small band with a fierce local following. It may not be as widespread or pay as well as the labels, but it affords astounding creative freedom if you get backed.

  3. > “Now, if the band could just finish recording their records a bit more quickly, we’d really be living in the future.”

    Not to be all nay-saying, but nooooo — ЉHail to the Thief’ took 2 years, and was a bit on the flabby side; ЉIn Rainbows’ took more than 4 years, and was phenomenal.

  4. @Paul I’d love to see more frequent Radiohead releases – especially as they now work outside of the restrictive label scheduling machine that can see records pushed aside for months. And four years is a ridiculous amount of time between albums! In the 70s, Bowie managed to record eleven albums (as well as star in some films and produce numerous other acts). Sometimes the length of time you work on an album doesn’t equate to increased quality. Just ask Axl Rose Ё

  5. I think this also points pretty clearly to how the “album” is becoming a pretty abstract concept. In this kind of release model, there’s much less of a need to package up a fixed collection of songs and sell them as a bundle.

    That’s not to say that the idea’ll go away completely — there are a lot of reasons to record and produce new material in batches, and there’s a commercial benefit to generating an “event” like this, but it’s already really a _choice_.

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