I managed to catch Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor backstage for a chat on his views on copyright and digital music distribution just before they played at the Beijing Pop Festival on 9 Sep.
In May this year, Reznor famously launched a tirade against his label Universal Music in Australia when he found out that:
“Year Zero is selling for $34.99 Australian dollars ($29.10 US). No wonder people steal music. Avril Lavigne’s record in the same store was $21.99 ($18.21 US). By the way, when I asked a label rep about this, his response was: “It’s because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out - you know, true fans. It’s the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy.” So, I guess as a reward for being a “true fan” you get ripped off. “
And this week in Beijing, he again reiterated his disgust with the labels by stating
“We will put out one last album for Universal and after that we will sell albums directly to fans from our website at (say) $4 an album”.
In full empathy with their fans, he even prepared a Chinese language section on the NIN website in preparation for their first ever concert in China, with a heartfelt message to his Chinese fans which translates as follows:
“As for the special situation in China, it does not seem to be easy to obtain Western music via legal channels, so I have the following suggestion for our fans: If you can find and buy our legal CDs, I express my thanks for your support. If you cannot find it, I think that downloading from the Internet is a more acceptable option than buying pirated CDs. Our music is easy to find on the Internet, and you might not need to spend much effort to find most of our songs. If you like our songs after you’ve heard them, please feel free to share it with your friends. As I have put all my effort and heart into my music, I sincerely hope that more and more people can share the enjoyment with us.”
Reznor is adamant that fans should not have to jump through hoops of fire and pay unreasonable prices simply to get NIN’s music - least of all in this day and age when every conceivable work of music could be made available a click away online.
As he pointed out, the world is getting smaller but labels are not taking advantage of this opportunity to put this music conveniently in front of fans. As proof of his intent and anger at artificial borders being upheld for profit, Reznor vetoed a label-planned European maxi-single for the song Capital G opting instead to release a Year Zero remix album at some point in the future. This way, fervent U.S. fans would not be forced to have to spend $30+ to import a two-song single that includes one new remix.
Reznor also stated that
“Since the CD came on the market, even with its relatively lower production costs compared to vinyl, labels saw it fit to increase prices exorbitantly while artists’ age-old contracts meant they got the same amount as before - and even granting that the labels invest in marketing and take risks, it is still a great rip-off”.
In his view, true fans are being made to pay to sustain the fat paychecks of label execs. These were the exact same sentiments that have been expressed by Chuck D of Public Enemy before - coincidentally Public Enemy was the other headlining act at the Beijing Pop Festival.
As a point of note, HMV is still selling music at global rate prices of US$18 in a lot of markets with imports going for the ridiculous price of US$25 and more. Makes one wonder if this also falls under the pirate CD category!
Reznor also thinks that DRM infested formats including the ones from iTunes do not serve fans well and he totally understands why they would instead resort to downloading ubiquitous DRM-free mp3s from BT and P2P networks.
Lest the misguided ‘music wants to be free’ movement conveniently hijack Reznor’s stance as an endorsement to free-load, he emphatically states that there has to be a way that musicians are compensated without imposing barriers to fans and abusing their trust by commanding unfair price premiums.. Hence NIN has built up an outstanding website not only to communicate directly with fans but with a view to making it easy to access their music at a fair price once NIN’s label dues are completed.
And what about the music?
Reznor reaffirmed his commitment to carrying on making the kind of music that’s brought them this far and which they still believe in. He also panned label executives who are panicking at the downturn in the music industry and subsequently try to force artists to adopt “flavor of the month Timbaland productions” as the panacea for their self-inflicted afflictions.
Reznor further added,
“We didn’t know what to expect in China as it is our first time here, so we brought all our equipment along. We didn’t want to compromise in any way and wanted to give fans the full Nine Inch Nails experience. I think we might probably have even lost some money on this show”
And what a fantastic show it was - probably one of the more amazing shows seen in China. Credit to Beijing Pop Festival organizer Jason Magnus who moved mountains in China to put together a radical non-conformist line-up of NIN, Public Enemy, New York Dolls, Ramones (Marky) and rebel Chinese rocker Cui Jian amongst others.
However, in this digital age, the next radical act in the music industry will probably be played out online and Trent Reznor has already set the stage for it.
Also, thanks to Cory Doctorow for featuring this article on Boing Boing :