Trent Reznor Loves Downloads

By JJJ for 03-10-08 on March 10, 2008


Last year Trent Reznor told Aussies to steal his music. This year he's asking you to pay. The Nine Inch Nails frontman was fuming when he saw his record Year Zero selling for 35 bucks. He blamed his label telling Aussie fans to punish them by downloading his music without paying. Now he's ditched Interscope records and is trying to find his feet as an independent artist. His first release is Ghosts I-IV a 36 track instrumental work. Instead of just getting it into stores Reznor is giving fans the option of how they want to hear it. The range includes free samples, a US download and for the deep wallets an ultra deluxe edition costing US three hundred bucks. That includes a cd, dvd, vinyl, art work and a Reznor autograph. Trent Reznor says none of this would have been possible if he was still on a major label. Interview by Michael Atkin from JJJ's Hack program.

TR: We’d finish the record, and if I were to go to them and say “hey, I’d like to make something that has a nice hardbound book and I like it to fit, something you could sit on your coffee table and it held it’s own with the nicest things you’d find in the nicest high end art book stores, there would be a number of reasons why that wouldn’t make financial sense and, you know, record labels sell plastic disks to record shops and they’re not concerned about aesthetics, and if things don’t have an easy to identify target demographic then they’re not interested in doing that, and I understand that’s the business they’re in. I’m proud of the way we’ve presented this record and I’m proud of the way that we’ve treated the fan and ourselves in the process. It feels like, finally, there’s not some jerk in a record label saying no, and then not paying you at the end of the day.

JJJ: You had some problems with the website going down when people first started downloading, do you know why that happened? Was it just because of the volume?

TR: I’ve been through this with a few different web developers and, I mean, just to be frank, we got caught with our pants down when it was so much more than we thought it was going to be. I added the player aspect where you could listen to tracks and then I also insisted that the quality, the fidelity, of that was pretty high, so that was a huge hit of bandwidth, but those who should have been paying attention to that aspect of it kind of didn’t pay as much attention, so streaming high quality music on top of the only type of downloads that we offer were of the highest fidelity. So, comparing that to say a Radiohead download our smallest download was, I think, six times bigger than theirs. All of it’s an excuse because it should have been dealt with, is the bottom line, and I apologise for that.

JJJ: You mentioned Radiohead then, did you wait to see what happened with them before you went in to this?

TR: No. I think what they did was a cool thing, I think that the way they’ve kind of parleyed that in to a marketing gimmick has certainly been shrewd, I think that at the end of the day if you look at what they did though was very much a bait and switch; let’s get you to pay for a MySpace quality stream as a way to promote a very traditional record sale. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t see that as being the revolution that they’re kinda getting credit for.

JJJ:So you think they didn’t look after fans enough by making that download a high quality?

TR:What they did right? They surprised the world with a new record and it was available digitally first. What they did wrong? By making it such a low quality thing, not even including artwork and including things they’ve even said themselves say the proper way to get this record is on a CD and that’s coming out in a few months, and to me that feels insincere. It relies upon the fact it was, you know, quote en quote “first” and it takes the headlines with it.

JJJ:Let’s talk about how Ghosts is going. The ultra deluxe edition, the first part of that is sold out, and the five-dollar download is still number one at the moment on Amazon.com. This is your chance to prove the doubters in the music industry wrong, can you tell me how many copies you’ve sold?

TR: Uhh, I would if I knew. I’m out of town right now so I haven’t even been in touch with the actual figures. After the first day I heard some scattered figures, and I’m not trying to avoid the question, I honestly don’t know.

JJJ: Critics of this sort of approach say that it’s only possible for artists, like yourself, that have a massive profile, what would you say to that?

TR: Well I think that’s a fair critique, and I’ll tell you another level that’s not impossible to add is that being able to put out this record like we have has cost me money to develop the website to do it.

JJJ: Can you tell us how much you had to spend on that?

TR: Well the development of the site was in the twenty thousand plus range, the digital model of paying for our bandwidth, which is a big burden, and the upkeep, and customer service, and credit card processing crap and all the things that has nothing to do with music. But, to answer you’re question before, certainly it’s easier for a band that has a reputation and has some interest.

JJJ: Do you think the major label has a cause to feel a bit hard done by cause they’ve spent all this money promoting you while you were on their label to give you this profile and now you’re using it to have freedom and to make money off it now?

TR: I mean that’s a fair point that you make, but you’re leaving out of the equation my relationship with the record label, in particular Interscope Records from 1991 to 2007 was one where they lent me money, when I paid that money back they owned that record, they make the lion’s share of the sales of the profit of that record. If you look at my bottom line at the time that I’ve been at Interscope they’ve made more money off Nine Inch Nails than Trent Reznor has. I will never shed a tear to see that dynasty crumble, it’s long overdue.

JJJ: Do you think the major labels now will adapt to this digital world? They’re starting to negotiate with the download sites to broker deals.

TR: I really don’t know. The level of ineptitude I’ve seen displayed at major labels is stunning. The people in charge of a lot of the digital technologies and the aspects that are decimating their business, that I‘ve seen, are people that seem to not even be on the internet, might have an AOL email account. I mean for them to right now in 2008 be considering brokering deals with download sites it’s like, you’re five years too late.

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