Nine Inch Nails puts CD online for free, for mash-ups

Another band follows the Radiohead model, and fans win.


Farhad Manjoo
March 4, 2008 12:05AM (UTC)

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor has been looking for alternatives to the traditional album-release model for years now. Last October, when the band worked out of its obligations to the record business, Reznor declared on the NIN Web site, "I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate."

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Today, he launched that direct relationship. In a surprise move, the band put out its new work, called "Ghosts I-IV," online.

The album is a four-part, 36-track behemoth, but you don't have to buy the full thing -- in keeping with the entrepreneurial, let's-try-a-bunch-of-things spirit that Radiohead brought to the industry with its release last year of "In Rainbows," NIN is offering "Ghosts" in a number of different ways.

  • Act now and you can download the first nine tracks -- which comprise "Ghosts I" -- for free from the band's site. But that site is being hammered under traffic today, so fortunately there's another option. NIN has also uploaded "Ghosts I" to various peer-to-peer BitTorrent trackers -- including The Pirate Bay, one of the most-hated sites in all the entertainment business. In the release notes, the group writes:
    Now that we're no longer constrained by a record label, we've decided to personally upload Ghosts I, the first of the four volumes, to various torrent sites, because we believe BitTorrent is a revolutionary digital distribution method, and we believe in finding ways to utilize new technologies instead of fighting them.
  • If you'd like the full album, not just the first nine tracks, you can get that, too. NIN is selling the digital version -- in a variety of formats, including 320 kbps MP3s, and "losslessly compressed" FLAC or Apple files -- on its Web site, as well as on iTunes and Amazon, for $5. The site, again, isn't doing too well under the traffic right now, so hold off for a bit.
  • You thought that was it, didn't you? Well, it ain't. So you say you want CDs, not digital downloads? NIN's got you covered there -- you can buy a two-CD set of the full album, "Ghosts I-IV," for $10 from the band's site. (When was the last time you got a new, multi-CD album for $10?) You get free downloads with your CD purchase.

    But even that's not all. Say you're a huge NIN fan. Well, just like Radiohead released a super-version of "In Rainbows," NIN has a $75 "deluxe edition" featuring two CDs, a data DVD will all songs in "multi-track" format, and a Blu-Ray disc with the music in "high-definition 96/24 stereo."

    And for $300, you can buy the "ultra-deluxe" limited edition which includes everything in the deluxe package, plus "an exclusive four-LP 180 gram vinyl set in a fabric slipcase, and two exclusive limited edition Giclee prints in a luxurious package." This edition is limited to 2,500 copies, numbered and signed by Reznor.

  • But wait. There is, of course, more! The best news of all is that the album is unconstrained by any copy-protection schemes. In fact, the group encourages copying -- "Ghosts" is being put out under a Creative Commons license. The license allows people to share the album and remix it for non-commercial uses, as long as they credit NIN.

When a band does this kind of thing, music industry-watchers always ask, Hey, will this work? Meaning, Is this going to make the band rich? Is this going to be as remunerative as selling albums the old way?

The truth is we don't yet know; the Radiohead experiment was in some ways sui generis, because what's true for Radiohead -- and, likely, NIN -- isn't true for the rest of the business.

But here's what we know for sure. Whether or not this model good for the band, it's certainly better for the fans. How do you get the new NIN album? Any way you wish.

[Flickr picture by jonklinger.]

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Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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