Exclusive: Trent Reznor on “The Social Network”

By Brenna Ehrlich for Mashable on September 27, 2010

Back when it was first announced that rocker Trent Reznor would be scoring David Fincher’s The Social Network, we thought it was a match made in pop culture heaven — a movie about the dark side of the social networking biz, scored by a man who has plumbed the depths of social media, while also wrestling with its implications? Sign us up.

Well, we got an aural glimpse at the soundtrack the other week after Reznor, along with his record company, The Null Corporation, and Sony’s Madison Gate Records announced the disc on Null Co’s website and gave fans a five-song sneak peek. Now we’re itching to see how music and celluloid go together.

As the premiere of the highly anticipated film rapidly approaches, we decided to talk with Reznor about the experience of scoring a movie in its entirety, the state of the music industry, and, of course, social media on the whole. Check out our interview with the rocker below.

First of all, you’re pretty well-known around the tech and music realm for finding interesting ways to use the web to get your music out. When did you decide to join the digital revolution?
Several years ago, I realized that the record companies are collapsing. The whole format of the business that I dedicated my life to is now collapsing in front of me and people are getting used to getting music for free. As a musician I thought to myself, ‘Let me figure this out.’ I know that answer’s not going to come from record labels, major labels, because they’re run as bloated bureaucracies with people who have no idea what they’re doing. Their first concern is: How do we keep our bottom line, how do we keep milking people?

It’s not about how the kid in the dorm room that likes to listen to music. Or how they find out about music…. They’re not thinking about the artist that finishes the record and turns it in and watches it leak…. I felt furious when the record I’d worked on for a year, that my heart and soul’s gone into, [leaked]. I’m pissed off at people that are listening to it. I’m mad that they’re snubbing me — by what? By being excited about hearing my music? And that’s wrong. I shouldn’t be mad at these people. I should be glad that people are interested.

And a lot of the business models that we’ve come up with, the experiments we’ve tried in the last few years, are just direct results of paying attention to how people use music and how they listen to music.

Well, it seems like you’re taking these lessons to heart. In the past, you’ve released albums in really creative ways — i.e. putting the first volume of Ghosts up on torrent sites, and then offering packages at varying prices for different tiers of fans. Why did you choose to release the soundtrack for the Social Network via Amazon’s deals program?
This record was unusual because it really is a companion piece to something else — and that something else, obviously, is the film. And the film is the main thing, really. So partnering with Sony — because at the end of the day they’re the ones calling the shots — we tried to get this out so that it might grab a little bit more attention than the run-of-the-mill soundtrack, because I also think it’s a great soundtrack.

So that felt to me that it was worth doing. It’s not compromising the integrity of it. It’s not buy a case of Mountain Dew and get a soundtrack if you send in a sticker or any of that kind of bullsh**t. So that’s what we did on that one.

Have you seen any negative reaction to the way the album was released?
I have seen some things pop up like, ‘Why is he doing that?’ and they feel like I took a step backwards. Well, bottom line: I want to be able to offer this to people at the cheapest possible price. And I can’t give it free because it’s not just me [involved], and I also I don’t think free is appropriate for this thing.

Speaking of the film, what was your initial reaction to the idea of a “Facebook movie”? A ton of people seem to think it’s kind of a silly idea.
I myself had the reaction when I got a call from David Fincher, who’s one of my very favorite directors, saying ‘Would you like to score this film?’
‘Yes! What is it?’
‘It’s about social networks. It’s about the founding of Facebook.’
‘Hmm… really? How can that be interesting?’”

When I actually read the script and knowing David was involved — and David brings a level of excellence to what he’s interested in and what he works on — I knew this wasn’t going to be what I feared it could be in lesser hands. [And it became]: How can I help change people’s preconceived notions of what a Facebook movie is — the same feeling I myself had when I first heard of it…. It’s not about Facebook, so much. It’s about people and greed and creation and entitlement. It’s not about how people use Facebook, necessarily.

This is the first movie you’ve ever scored in its entirety. Are you happy with the result?
It was interesting for me to not be boss. I’m not the top of the pyramid here. So, I enjoyed the role of working for someone, for someone else’s vision.

I wanted to make it something that inched up the drama a little bit. And darkened the mood. Because I think there’s a great sense of betrayal and greed that runs through this film that I kind of wanted to play up. So I went off into my laboratory for a few weeks with Atticus [Ross], my conspirator, and just generated a bunch of sketches… Somehow we got it right almost the first time. [David] didn’t have an constructive criticism because he was blown away in trying some of these out in different scenes. I would like to say it was genius, but it was probably luck.

My first big moment was right after we gave [the rough cut] to him. He said, ‘I’m showing a very early, super rough edit, come by and check it out. But watch out, we put a lot of your music in it and you had no input on where it it. Just be prepared.’ The lights go down, the movie comes on. And I got goosebumps and I was like, ‘F**ck, we did that?’

I’m very proud of the results and how it turned out. I think it really helped congeal the movie into something that subtly pushes it along and changes the presentation in a cool way. It makes it a little heavier. A little less light.

You have a pretty storied history with social media — you even quit Twitter and other sites a few times. What’s your ultimate opinion of the phenomena?
I can’t participate as a civilian because I have a level of celebrity that makes me not able to use Facebook in the way that someone who’s not a celebrity can use it. I watch people, friends of mine, and see how they portray themselves online and I find interesting that it’s kind of a hyper-real version of yourself, how you’d like to be seen, in a way. And I question the generation or two coming up who are used to engaging people in that format and wonder what the repercussions will be down the road — how human relationships will differ in an age of oversharing.

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