We live in a truly strange era for media — the President denounces “fake news” in a campaign ad that itself cites the “fake news” and airs on the news, Hulk Hogan teams up with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to crush gossip blogs, The Wall Street Journal muckrakes on video game YouTubers, and publications revamp their business model to try and court the rapidly shifting attentions of 18-25-year-old consumers.
One of these efforts that caught my eye comes via The Economist, which is about as reputable a newspaper as we have left. I had no idea they have a film/video content division, and even less of a no idea that they were dedicating resources to covering music industry events that happened almost a decade ago, as they did with the following piece on Radiohead’s In Rainbows album:
Of course, the “mould” that Radiohead broke didn’t last long. It was followed by some high-profile imitators — Nine Inch Nails went indie and released The Slip independently in 2008 before signing back up with Sony — as well as some low-profile ones, as when Earache released Gama Bomb’s Tales from the Grave in Space as a .rar file, then dropped the band. But now that the dust has settled (even on other paradigm shifts like the whole “surprise album” trend that’s disappeared), In Rainbows looks more and more like a historical outlier.
In one of his best recent pieces, industry critic Bob Lefsetz wrote that for all the boundary-breaking moves of the mid-2000’s the power of music industry titans has grown stronger:
For the past fifteen years we’ve seen internet phenomena which give the sole proprietor/artist hope. There was Radiohead with “In Rainbows,” Amanda Palmer on Kickstarter, PSY on YouTube, but none of them were replicable, they ended up stunts, footnotes in internet history.
So what we’ve learned here is you live and die by the sword of the big boys. And you can even vote for the renegade, but he’ll turn his back on you when he gets in office.
And nobody is bigger than the institution.
I love The Economist and will be curious to see them continue to develop their video division as it pertains to the music industry, but I basically agree with Bob on this one. When even our most independent-minded free-music mainstream rapper takes a half-million dollar deal from Apple Music (a few years after our last most independent-minded free-music mainstream rappers took multi-million dollar deals from Sony) it’s tough to argue that much has changed.