I understand that the distribution model for the music industry is going through a transition period at the moment. Streaming is in its difficult adolescent years, still trying to work out what it really is and making some poor decisions for the purposes of experimentation.
Which means that perhaps I shouldn’t begrudge artists doing a bit of experimentation in this area. But I do.
Recently Aphex Twin announced his new album via the deep web. He had a blimp with the logo flying over East London too. I honestly cannot think of a more pretentious way to announce a new album. It’s possibly the most Nathan Barley thing ever to have happened.
Perhaps that is the point of course. It is very possible that Aphex Twin did this entirely knowingly, and what with him being the secretive type we may never know for sure.
Now, I am a MASSIVE Radiohead fan. I don’t mean in the way that all musos ‘love Radiohead’, because duh. I mean I am one of the übergeeks who was obsessing over OK Computer and The Bends from the age of 13 and owns a copy of every single. Usernames I’ve commonly used for internet stuff include ‘Thom_Yorke_For_President’ and ‘lifeinaglasshouse’.
I am not one of those Radiohead übergeeks who stopped listening after OK Computer either. I loved Kid A. The, ahem, heavily Aphex Twin influenced fourth album.
That Aphex Twin influence was not a phase. In fact as much as Thom Yorke and Radiohead in general are considered constantly at the ‘cutting edge’ of musical innovation, the music he makes hasn’t moved on massively since Kid A. If you were going to be really harsh, you might say Thom Yorke is like Aphex Twin Lite. The populist version of Aphex Twin.
And this apparently extends to his musical distribution model. As releasing an album via BitTorrent is totally the Lite/Populist version of releasing it via the deep web.
As a technology fanatic as well as a music fanatic, there are elements I like about the endeavour. The idea that there are no servers, the file is ‘in the network‘. I understand that that is quite cool, but I also understand it’s not any different to Napster. This is not technological innovation here, the model’s been around for a number of years, and there’s a reason it hasn’t been embraced commercially.
Over the years I’ve used every file sharing mechanism going, and the difference between the illegal, user run ones (like torrents, like Napster) and the legal, privately run ones (like Spotify, like going into a record store and buying a bloody CD) is user experience. User experience is terrible using torrents, and it was on Napster too. The only reason people use these methods, is because they are free. Spotify can charge because it is a far greater and easier user experience than downloading music illegally (i.e., torrenting).
But to get my copy of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes I have to download a piece of buggy software, in order to download the actual file I want, at a rate of under 1mbps, despite having a +60mbps connection? That’s OK if it’s free. But now, Thom, I am paying too?
Then there’s the issue of cutting people out. You need a computer to get BitTorrent. Millions of people rely on their smartphones or tablets for both the internet and music nowadays, particularly the poorer demographics you’d assume Thom cares about. People in schools too; torrents are often banned on school or university networks. You don’t want students listening to your music?
I’m sorry, but user experience matters here. I love your music Thom, but keep the experimentation there, not in the distribution model.