The new Radiohead album ‘The King of Limbs’, comes out this Saturday. There’s been no hype, no reported studio fallouts, no leaks, not even a track-listing, just a cryptic announcement via Radiohead’s website on Monday night- ‘Thank you for waiting’.
Radiohead are as famous now for their release tactics as they are for their music. Their last album ‘In Rainbows’ was self released digitally first and then in lavishly packaged traditional formats some months later. Even more radical was their pricing policy- you could pay whatever you liked for the digital versions. Nobody knows how financially successful this was, however the approach for the new album gives us some clues.
The King of Limbs drops the ‘honesty box’ tactic. The MP3 version is priced at £6.00- £3.99 cheaper than iTunes. Could this have been the average price people were paying for ‘In Rainbows’? It’s still being self released via the bands website (without the help of iTunes) and later in the year we get a bonkers sounding physical version- “the worlds first Newspaper album” whatever that means.
Its fascinating to watch Radiohead experimenting with these formats- fine tuning their strategy each time. It’s the closest we’ll get to guessing the future of the music industry. As a fan, however, I’m loving the shock approach. Other bands like The Gorillaz and Sufjan Stevens have surprised us recently with last minute digital album launches. Without the vast infrastructure needed to get a CD or record distributed independent bands can release digital music fast, and with fewer hands on the master files there’s less chance of leaks before the launch.
The effect of this is album launches that become true collective discovery experiences. When I listen to The King of Limbs on Saturday morning I know that I’ll be experiencing this music for the first time with millions of people around the world- my enjoyment untainted by dodgy reviews, rife speculation, and silly back stories.
What Radiohead and digital music pioneers like them are discovering is more than new monetisation and distribution models. Independence and speed are creating in the digital world what fans have always relished live- that feeling of hearing new material first and sharing that excitement with the people around you.
See you at the gig.