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Set yourself free

By Index on Censorship / 13 September 2010


Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood explains why the band released their last album direct to their fans

It’s been nearly three years since we announced our “pay what you think it’s worth” scheme for the launch of our last record In Rainbows. I remember the excitement of it all, not least because the release date was my wife’s birthday, 10 October. The idea came from a friend of our manager, who proposed an “honesty box”, placing the onus on people to ask themselves how much they valued our music. Last summer, as we finished some more recordings, we started to think and talk about how to release them. So it seemed a good moment to take stock of the technological and cultural changes that have happened in the meantime.

In August 2007, we had finished our first record after the end of our deal with EMI. Previously, we would have given it to our record company at least three months up front, and then gone through the protracted round of meetings to decide on videos and singles — experiences we’d had for the previous six records. This time there was no EMI, and no one to decide anything but ourselves. We owned it outright, and could do whatever we wanted with it. This coincided with the growth of the internet as a medium to discover and share music, something we had used to reach fans while we made In Rainbows. This desire to use the technology was driven by distrust and frustration with trying to broadcast our music via traditional media, such as radio and television. Music on television is scarce, and hard to do well. Radio has such regulated playlists that disc jockeys are lucky to have one free play per show. Why go exclusively through such straitened formats when you could broadcast directly to people who are interested in you, in that moment?

The other attraction for us was the conjuring up of an event, a way of marking our releases and performances as special, unique times. The internet makes it easier for everything to be live, and that’s what we do. While we were in our studio, making the last few records, we would schedule last-minute “web casts”, and, at short notice, make small, spontaneous and impromptu programmes where we would play our favourite records, talk to fans, play new and old songs live, and even cover versions of songs from bands that had inspired us. It was stitched together on old Sony cams and video editors from eBay. It did feel like a Ruritanian broadcast, but it was thrilling to be sharing a live moment with our fans that wasn’t mediated by anyone except the internet service provider, and a live show that could be created ten minutes from home. I’d like to think the equivalent of this in broadcasting history would be the mom and pop radio stations that set up in America between the wars, when the excitement of a new medium was explored through the immediate community. In the same way, we saw the internet as a chance to treat the global constituency of Radiohead fans as our community. Also, it helped break up the studio tension, and made us feel less cloistered and isolated while we finished recording.

Against all this positive experience of using net technology, we’d had a bad experience on the previous record, when someone had taken some of the songs from a computer and put them online, well ahead of the official release. Everyone became very careful about carrying songs around, in the car, on CDs, music players and computers. It made you realise how easy it is to store and transmit music once it’s digitised, and that the fundamental thing about music is its destiny to be broadcast or shared. Part of the process of making a record involves listening to new songs or ideas in lots of different places: the car, the kitchen, with friends late at night. Having feelings of mild anxiety about music escaping onto the web wasn’t conducive to that, and there were a few panics. Fortunately, we managed to keep everything unreleased until the online download of In Rainbows.

The success of keeping the music off the net until release proved very powerful. A pre-digital album launch would involve some shows perhaps, record shop queues if you were lucky, and plans by the record company to mark the release as an event. In the digital world, with the ease of music escaping online, that sense of an event is diminished.

With In Rainbows, we were able to be the first people to digitally release our record, directly to people’s personal computers, at 7.30am GMT on 10 October 2007. I was having breakfast, and watched as the file appeared in my email, and the album streamed onto my desktop. I spent the next day and night monitoring people’s reactions online, both to the music and the means of delivery. Journalists in America had stayed up overnight to write the first review as they received the music – again, in the pre-digital age they would have had advance copies up to three weeks before. On the torrent site bulletin boards, people were arguing over whether they should be downloading and paying for the record from our site, rather than the free torrents. Various online pundits and pamphleteers were pronouncing the end of the record business, or of Radiohead, or of both.

For all the giddy prognostications, the most important reason for the success of In Rainbows was the quality of the music. I think this was overlooked, but without the great songs that we were proud of, the online release would have counted for nothing. I am optimistic that if you make good work you can secure the patronage of your fans.

Three years later, we have just finished another group of songs, and have begun to wonder about how to release them in a digital landscape that has changed again. It seems to have become harder to own music in the traditional way, on a physical object like a CD, and instead music appears the poor cousin of software, streamed or locked into a portable device like a phone or iPod. I buy hardly any CDs now and get my music from many different sources: Spotify, iTunes, blog playlists, podcasts, online streaming – reviewing this makes me realise that my appetite for music now is just as strong as when I was 13, and how dependent I am upon digital delivery. At the same time, I find a lot of the technology very frustrating and counter-intuitive. I spend a lot of time using music production software, but iTunes feels clunky. I wish it was as simple and elegant as Apple’s hardware. I understand that we have become our own broadcasters and distributors, but I miss the editorialisation of music, the curatorial influences of people like John Peel or a good record label. I liked being on a record label that had us on it, along with Blur, the Beastie Boys and the Beatles.

I’m unconvinced that the internet has replaced the club or the concert hall as a forum for people to share ideas and passions about music. Social networking models such as Twitter and foursquare are early efforts at this but have some way to go to emulate the ecosystem that labels such as Island drew upon, the interconnected club and studio worlds of managers, musicians, artists and record company mavericks, let alone pay for such a fertile environment. Shoreditch, in east London, has a vibrant scene right now, with independent labels such as Wichita, Bella Union and distribution companies like The Co-op, alongside the busy Strongroom studio. I spoke to a friend, Dan Grech-Marguerat, about the scene. He is a busy mixer and producer, and told me that he could just sit at home and work on the computer but would miss the social buzz and benefits of working at the Strongroom and other studios.

There are signs that the net is moving out of its adolescence, and preparing to leave its bedroom. I have noticed on the fan message sites that a lot of the content and conversations have grown up, moved away from staccato chat and trolling, to discussions about artists, taste and trends, closer to writing found in music magazines.

There is less interest in the technological side of the net, and more focus on what services the web can deliver, like any other media. People are using touch and gesture-controlled devices such as the iPad to see through those objects to get to the content they want. This transparency and immediacy is exciting for us as artists, because it brings us closer to our audience.

We have yet to decide how to release our next record, but I hope these partial impressions will help give some idea of the conversations we’ve been having. Traditional marketplaces and media are feeling stale – supermarkets account for around 70 per cent of CDs sold in the UK, the charts are dominated by TV talent-show acts – and we are trying to find ways to put out our music that feel as good as the music itself. The ability to have a say in its release, through the new technologies, is the most empowering thing of all.

Colin Greenwood is Radiohead’s bassist

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  21. Steven

    18 February at 11:30

    Why not try a CD amnesty.
    Urge people to bring in old CDs. 10 CDs = 1 New Radiohead album


    Pay your age in decades

    10yr old pays £1,
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  24. Mr B

    13 November at 23:46

    Listen to these are my twisted words….

    Took me right back to my first Radiohead experience

    Art is Art…..if we had a musical tate Modern Radiohead would have a number of classics on the walls…as it happens they hang in our heads…

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  29. aliyah

    29 October at 17:10

    really want to listen new album! when it will release?
    sorry for my english. im from russia

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  31. splash

    21 September at 16:46

    Great discussion piece Colin
    Certainly embracing new technology and old skool formats in duality with regards to album releases is vital in today’s marketplace and bands like you NIN and others mentioned above are innovative in disseminating their music. Controlling your music is a much better place to be than EMI I’m sure you’d agree. Generating buzz, creative ideas/new distribution methods and of course vitally good songs are essential to stimulating interest /purchase / relationships. The album itself is a format that is in question – not for my money as i like the theme of ‘the album’ and the great albums also capture moments in time – but with a tune based itunes or spotify, with subscription models and the cloud, lastfm, playlists etc consumers are increasingly individual track led rather than album led. Vinyl definitely works against this single based mentality alongside better quality digital and new technology distribution methods These are vital and empowering – look forwards to receiving new radiohead subliminally through computerised, mobilised osmosis. splash

  32. Mad Genius

    21 September at 15:39

    To Manik…

    Colin didn’t pay for “From Rainbows” (as you call it) on-line. You see, sir, he’s in the band. So he simply paid for the gear, the studio, the mastering, the manufacturing, the off-line distribution and the years of blood, sweat and toil that come with being a working, touring, recording musician.

    To Colin…

    I love your music, but I have a problem with the model that artists like your band and Nine Inch Nails so successfully employed in 2007. It’s stacked in the favor of well-established, well-financed artists.

    Musicians like myself who haven’t broken through have lost a valuable system in the labels for networking with fans and other artists. As more and more successful musicians jump ship and tout their new internet model, the major labels have pulled ranks with their tried-and-true successes, purging their rosters of fringe artists who can’t employ the same promotional techniques as a Rihanna, for example.

    The smaller labels have either withered away (like Touch And Go) or become a place where only friends of friends get released and promoted (Arts & Crafts or Merge) due to small promotional staffs and no money for finding new artists for development.

    The real savior of the music industry will be the person who finds a financially viable way to build an on-line version of the thriving indie label: An honest organization that loves music, searches it out, develops with the younger artists and releases their product to the web-savvy music fan.

    What we have right now won’t help musicians grow: A wild, wild web, where gimmicky fluff grabs our attention for mere moments and hard working musicians struggle to be heard in a sea of digital shouting, dying from ignorance and eventually giving in to the day job and steady paycheck… Another missed opportunity for us all to discover something truly great.

    But, hey, at least we have the new Radiohead record, right?

    Mad Genius
    Madison, WI

  33. John Mclaren

    21 September at 11:29

    Radiohead is doing the right thing ahead of the curve. The music industry has become so institutionalized and top heavy at many levels it’s almost serving no purpose, and only rarely to cultivate great music and musicians. The music industry has always been a creature of media and technology. The first player pianos put musicians out of work, later replaced by records and so on, until the next obvious step today which is CD’s which have absolutely no value or content other than digital tracks are totally obsolete. The industry refused to keep up to date with technology, and they could not conceptualize musicians offering a greater product or experience than a CD that does not even have tags in the track data. So now musicians will bypass their entire industry, directly offer more amazing products and personal art, and create more imaginative or out of the box concepts for live shows or community events which reflect the current reality of technology and artistic mediums. Much of the industry will go right on selling grandpa’s CD’s until their customer base just dies off. :/

  34. Rolf

    21 September at 06:37

    Daer Mr. Greenwood,
    Thank you for your essay, which is challenging and exciting. I respect the thought you put into the distribution of your new album, as indeed you show yourselves (the band) to be pondering the position we are culturally in, technology having placed us in an atmosphere that has made so many of the modes we have become so engrained in obsolete (record cos, production, wedding djs, just to name a few examples, in music alone)–modes that are still, one must admit, are still taken seriously, ppl dont get change always i suppose.
    Make no mistake though, the release of your album, in any form, is highly anticipated, has every aspect working for it to be an event. (a quick anecdote, 10 years ago, kid a, this is before the total thrust of file sharing had come up, a friend of mine was at the record store at midnight, bought like 13 copies of the album, next day gave them one each to all his friends, how i got my copy, bought himself the collector’s edition, some of us then sitting in front of the coffee shop pondering the art work in that edition;* and the next several months that album everywhere in my world: home car trips coffee house, even work, the manager sneaking it into the bar and grill’s cd player system, me asking to take a break bussing tables to watch you on saturday night live, manager quiet nod aknowledgemnt, me watching and blown away; that album was in the air! wow.) you say it, it’s the thing itself, it’s yeah, hte music, beyond the means through which it reaches pple, that’s what gets the final responce (david fricke discussing this in wilco doc “i am trying to break your heart”, reccomended).
    but my responce, if youd want to consider it, while reading this i think of sufjan stevens, an artist with my respect, always independant, started his own record co; well out of nowhere he recently anounced release of new EP, streamed live on a website called bandcamp and digital download being sold right there for $5 (listen and then buy? go figure!). well now, his new album is announced , on same website you can buy album for $12 and will receive a digital download 2 weeks before its physical release (and, hey, it hasnt leaked!).
    Indeed Radiohead, whatever you decife, has potential for impact. something like this bandcamp, not affiliated w a record co as far as i can tell, pretty small but seemingly having a format w possible potential, could be a consideration. If read i appreciate ur time. once more, i appreciate your considerations in the concepyt of the internet being taken a bit more seriously in a way, in light of its possible potential.

    * i hope that the whole notion of cover art, this presntation, is not lost, what’s a beatle’s record without that for example? i’v never seen the in rainbows artwork, besides the cover. the kid a art work, and amnesiac, blew us all away. perhaps that’s something you might want to consider exploring, maybe in a digital way, though i agree with som here that at least as of now, packaging of a disc of some kind, a cover and a booklet, is or should ideally be considered an essential part of an album.

    ** http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2009/11/sufjan-stevens-on-the-road-to-find-out.html

    sufjan stevens interview discusses same topic as you do here in a way, i recommend. (his discussion of this if you want to skip begins, i believe, at the heading “. . . AND BEYOND”

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  36. Kevin

    21 September at 04:34

    Some interesting discussion and many ostentatious cocks as Chris says. I really like Carlos Arrieta’s idea about webcasting a song a week with the album going on sale after the last song is released. I also think they should release on a smaller label to give some exposure and help fund some interesting new bands.

    As for the argument that Radiohead is biting the hand that feeds (fed) it, that is purely ridiculous. The climate for new upcoming bands is much better now than it was when Radiohead started. They may have gotten lucky to be signed by a major label, but they paid a price. I definitely agree that Radiohead is talented enough that they would have “bubbled to the top” even if they released independently. And I think that they would have been better off if they had done so and dodged the international superstardom thing. When OK Computer blew up, they were totally unprepared for the level of promotion and the pace and duration of the touring. They may be well-off now that their contract is over, but I’m sure they were counting down the days.

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  38. Chris

    21 September at 00:18

    When I say ostentatious cocks and twats, I mean you all posters. Yeah, you.

  39. Chris

    21 September at 00:17

    What a bunch of ostentatious cocks (or twats).

    Given the music these guys have put out, something tells me they would have bubbled to the top of music fans’ attention. Maybe not pop culture, but certainly music lovers. Who gives a flying fuck whether they would have made it to the level they have? Even if, thats done and gone. They are big. But like I said, who gives a fuck about that. What I (and most listeners/musicians) care about is the music, presentation being part of it, of course.

    I’m glad someone is doing something different with presentation and release.

    Quit being a bunch of yapping swine.

  40. Aidan Nulman

    20 September at 22:46

    Hi Colin!

    Like many above have said already — great post. I’m humbled by the obviously deep thought you put into the possibilities of the web as a communication + delivery medium, and its evolution as such.

    Also, if you’re looking at the iPhone and mobile as delivery devices, and community play as a strategy, please get in touch. My company, YouPhonics, has built technology that gets people playing music together remotely, and we’d be honoured to work with you on your next experiments!


  41. Dawn

    20 September at 21:48

    apologies for shouting through the last post – I tried to format my answers as bold (using your instructions above) and it’s formatted the entire post as bold.

  42. Dawn

    20 September at 21:47

    I felt I had to reply to your mail New Dawn:


    I think you’re being a little harsh on Radiohead here. You clearly don’t care for their music, which is unfortunate for you (/joke), so putting those comments to one side, I’d like to offer some counter-arguments.

    I actually own every one of their albums, even the IN RAINBOWS diskbox. I’m a fan of their music, but not the way they work. I can separate that and still enjoy their music, but I also feel I have the right to criticise (as anyone does) their working methods.

    Suggesting that the band is naive for putting the onus on the listener to attach monetary value to music suggests that you have little faith in people’s ability to engage with the arguments properly. Your attitude is that of the music industry execs who would rather stick to traditional forms of distribution as the rest of the world downloads everything for nothing. A high-profile band putting the transaction in our hands kick-started a conversation that should have happened long before 2007.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the band when announcing the download availability of the new album, simply stated “the new album will be available for download and you should pay what you want for it”. I don’t remember a statement telling everyone it would be a low quality download and that if you wanted at least cd quality you’d have to wait and buy the physical format when it appeared later. I think that was at the least thoughtless of the band, and at worst cynical – I’d like to believe the former and I actually do.

    I don’t think Radiohead ever claimed to be doing anything more than inviting debate on the issues of leaked music, digital rather than physical copies of music, and music’s intrinsic financial value. Suggesting they thought they were inventing a new system of economics seems to be making the most sensationalist interpretation of their actions the band’s intent – that view seems far too reductive to be in any way credible.

    That’s a fair point and I have to say if I inferred that view, I was wrong.

    The idea that they owe everything to EMI is the most ridiculous. Like with everything else you say, it seems you believe downloading music is still a new phenomenon, when in reality it has been widespread for a decade (or more), and that bands’ only hope of “success” is still through the record companies (with, I assume, the majors indicating the most “success”).

    Now I never said that. What I said was that without that system they probably would never have got beyond album No.1.

    Thom was very vocal about losing the shackles of their EMI deal and venturing into new territory. Good for him! Thousand of musicians have been making music for years without the help of the ‘label model’ (be that indie or major, I’ve worked for both, and they both work in essentially the same manner, no matter what the indie flag bearers say).

    Your suggestion seems to be that Radiohead was nothing until the record company distributed the Drill EP. While they were certainly not well-known, they were a band (On a Friday, then Radiohead) writing and performing music – “record company model” or not. All Radiohead have done differently to a lot of other bands now working is had a 6 album deal with a record label – now they are working from essentially the same point as any band with a home-recording setup.

    Albeit with a few million in the bank in order to aid years spent writing new material. I don;t know many musicians with home set-ups who have that luxury.

    My point being they had a good ride on the system when it suited their needs, why bit the hand that feeds now? (by publicly criticising it at every opportunity.)

    I think their thoughts on how they want to release their record are inspiring to as-yet obscure independent bands like my own. While they will have no problem putting a release out on any label they want, they are also considering whether it is the best way to distribute their music at all, and whether self-releasing work is workable. The thousands of bands that self-release work without a label’s assistance can surely see the advantage of having a high-profile ally, even if it only gets people checking out work independently distributed as a cottage industry on the web.

    Again, I have no argument with that line of thought. Any band who isn’t thinking about alternative ways of recording and distributing their music in 2010 is (obviously in my view, as I’m writing this) like camel’s with their heads in the sand.

    There will always be a need for financial backers in the music industry to some extent. There will always be bands like Blur and Radiohead who make good records but want the financial backing of someone in order to devote 100% of their time to being a ‘professional musician’ (whatever the hell that is), who knows if in future if it will be just a case of going along to meet your creative investment team at your local bank? or if it will involve a actual record label?

    I think you ought to give these ideas a second thought before you condemn a band that dares to do things differently. The distribution method Radiohead used for In Rainbows yields no real danger to musicians; it just creates more opportunities that are not based soley on industry financing.

    Good luck to them, and good luck to all the great musicians worldwide who don’t have the luxury of retreating to their country piles in order to plot their next leftfield move!

  43. Erich Flanela

    20 September at 21:32

    I just hope to hear the new tunes shortly. In my opinion, In Rainbows is still the best release (in terms of quality) in the last 5-7 years. It is also one of my favorite (if not THE favorite) Radiohead album.

    And that doesn’t have anything to do with the way it was delivered to my PC. Their songs are still great and that’s certainly what made it worth it.


    20 September at 20:07


  45. Janine

    20 September at 17:28

    It would be great if radiohead could make a move in the music industry back to vinyl, that’s the only way to fight downloading, although downloading is not always bad, it can be very beneficial for bands. but all the indie/alternative labels seem to be making vinyl important. I’m sure you guys could think of something else but if everyone my age listened to vinyl that would be really cool, although vinyl is really expensive. can’t wait to hear the new album though. :F

  46. Janine

    20 September at 17:18

    hey Colin, that was amazing what you had to and I never knew you guys loved John Peel that is amazing. he was such an influential person and it’s great that such a hugely influential band like radiohead appreciates him.

    For the new album. I would love to buy it on vinyl and get an MP3 download code. lots of bands are doing it but since you guys are radiohead I’m sure you guys don’t want to follow everyone and do something completely different which cool but I’d love to own it on vinyl. I love album art. I go to an art school and hopefully some day I can make album art for bands. (: but can’t wait to hear the new album! great essay by the way, it’s nice to see educated people in the music industry. take care. (:

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  50. Martin

    20 September at 15:49

    Brilliant.. Please do not ever stop making music. We need bands like you in a time where lady gaga is the best of the best in the mainstream world! Radiohead – your genius will be forever under rated

  51. simon

    20 September at 15:46

    cant wait to hear the next album.

    whatever the format, i will buy.
    every album released have been worth every penny.

    I understand the frustration but in the end, people who loves your music will pay for it like i do. Its a question of respect. Respect the artist and buy the albums, its there paycheck !


  52. New Dawn

    20 September at 15:35


    I think you’re being a little harsh on Radiohead here. You clearly don’t care for their music, which is unfortunate for you (/joke), so putting those comments to one side, I’d like to offer some counter-arguments.

    Suggesting that the band is naive for putting the onus on the listener to attach monetary value to music suggests that you have little faith in people’s ability to engage with the arguments properly. Your attitude is that of the music industry execs who would rather stick to traditional forms of distribution as the rest of the world downloads everything for nothing. A high-profile band putting the transaction in our hands kick-started a conversation that should have happened long before 2007.

    I don’t think Radiohead ever claimed to be doing anything more than inviting debate on the issues of leaked music, digital rather than physical copies of music, and music’s intrinsic financial value. Suggesting they thought they were inventing a new system of economics seems to be making the most sensationalist interpretation of their actions the band’s intent – that view seems far too reductive to be in any way credible.

    The idea that they owe everything to EMI is the most ridiculous. Like with everything else you say, it seems you believe downloading music is still a new phenomenon, when in reality it has been widespread for a decade (or more), and that bands’ only hope of “success” is still through the record companies (with, I assume, the majors indicating the most “success”).

    Your suggestion seems to be that Radiohead was nothing until the record company distributed the Drill EP. While they were certainly not well-known, they were a band (On a Friday, then Radiohead) writing and performing music – “record company model” or not. All Radiohead have done differently to a lot of other bands now working is had a 6 album deal with a record label – now they are working from essentially the same point as any band with a home-recording setup.

    I think their thoughts on how they want to release their record are inspiring to as-yet obscure independent bands like my own. While they will have no problem putting a release out on any label they want, they are also considering whether it is the best way to distribute their music at all, and whether self-releasing work is workable. The thousands of bands that self-release work without a label’s assistance can surely see the advantage of having a high-profile ally, even if it only gets people checking out work independently distributed as a cottage industry on the web.

    I think you ought to give these ideas a second thought before you condemn a band that dares to do things differently. The distribution method Radiohead used for In Rainbows yields no real danger to musicians; it just creates more opportunities that are not based soley on industry financing.

  53. pete

    20 September at 12:18

    can’t wait to see how ya’ll do things this time around. i will be downloading it illegally regardless, but i’m still eager to see what the band chooses to do. i make myself feel better about stealing the actual tunes by buying merch from the site, keeping a radiohead sticker on my vehicle, and buying two tickets to every radiohead show that comes within two hundred miles of my city.

    i wish there was a combination of words eloquent enough to truly express the sincere appreciation i feel towards your band for the music you make

  54. Michael

    20 September at 12:01

    “Whatever you do, please also release the album on some sort of physical format”.
    I absolutely agree with this one. I cannot imagine a Radiohead record without this “ritual” of going to a shop, buying a record, unwrapping it at home and then listening to it and loking at the artwork from the booklet. With the physical format you can feel that the music is in some way closer to You.

    Looking forward to the next record of the best band in the world.

    P.S. Thank You for the last year’s concert in Poland. Please come back again! :)

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  59. Lenartnei

    20 September at 06:04

    From my bad english writing here it goes,

    It seems we all here have to agree with Dawn’s comment above by saying that RH have a certain “luxury to do it”. Yes, they seem to have all this “luxury”, and I like them despite of it – after all I also like many other “rich” artists, what I can do about it, kill myself and donate the organs? I mean, sure I will donate them, but honestly not that soon I hope.

    Though in a certain point of view, RH are pretty like U2, a ‘record label model’ band. And they could even be as greed as Daniel comment above (can dream of) make me believe it, but still it seems a big nonsense to me that when an artist want to interact with the 2.0 co-elaborating internet, someone keeps looking to such things.

    Of course that it dont mean that,
    with In Rainbows strategy, they just happened to choose “different strategies” from, let’s say, U2’s (the old radio and TV). We have to consider the various meanings on “independent work”, not only as an economic issue. Collin and the band have talked about the pros and cons of it since last EMI album, though all of us we’re thinking they already were free to do anything they wanted since that “non-radio-and-TV-friendly-at-first-sight” Ok Computer follow-up.

    And its obvious to me that their decision on putting new releases for “_____ dollars” cant be compared as the same decision of non-record-label-model-bands like catpeople.com

    So what?

    What could RH do with the death of record-label-model issues on U2’s wannabes?

    After all there wasnt any death of the possibility to create new music and have an audience and make some money. There it is catpeople.com to prove it. We’re talking about the death of U2 or RH wannabes, thats all.

    And not only the old-Radio and TV are still there throwing up some star-wannabes, but also people who make music (and want to make a living of it) are still depending on personal contacts, daddys money and another old-school-strategies to achieve it.

    And there is the internet as a great (and relatively cheap, but not free!) way to promote audience. Internet have to be promoted, re-invented. And at this point I like what Dawn is asking, just adding that I dont expect RH guys to be hipocrite.

    So it was great reading Collins article here, telling us about his excitement with “the ability to have a say” on internet by the act of releasing something.

    Hugs from Brazil,
    please include Porto Alegre city on next tour!

    Ps: If someone couldn’t understand something I wrote, dont worry. Neither I’ll do tomorrow morning.

  60. Edward

    20 September at 05:57

    interesting thoughts, dawn. but allow me two points to counter

    number 1: in rainbows is awesome. awesome to the max, if you will.

    and number 2: you suck. and so does the no neck blues band. whoever they are.

    nah, just kidding. you sound like you probably practice poor hygiene, but other than that, i’m sure you’re just fine. i just needed a hook to get colin to read the next part.

    to colin, if you’re reading this:

    I have desperately been trying to contact radiohead for a while now, but have been having difficulties. so please please read this!

    i have an idea for the music industry that i think you would find appealing. it has the potential to completely remake the entire business, granting the artist more control than ever possible before. the best part: it would make wads of money, so your fleet of yachts is safe.

    colin, i truly believe this idea could change the industry forever, and you could be the one to make it possible! think of the legacy! you would be the most important band of all time!! yes, even bigger than the legendary no neck blues band!!!

    i know this all sounds unlikely, foolish maybe, entirely moronic… probably, but then again, maybe not, eh?

    maybe it just might work.

    only one way to find out. all i’m asking for is that you just let me share this idea. i’m certain you’ll find it at least interesting. there’s nothing to lose. thanks for listening.

    contact me here: [email protected]

    p.s. play cuttooth live.

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  63. Dawn

    19 September at 15:01

    I have many problems with Radiohead’s IN RAINBOWS release ‘strategy’. It was touted as independently minded and ‘brand new’.

    1) It was pushed as a new ‘pay what you like’ model, when as has been better explained above by other posters, people were being invited to pay for a low-quality leak.

    The situation should have been better explained by the band in advance, not all fans have the cash to buy two or three formats of the same record.

    2) The entire release was pushed as if the band were throwing off the shackles of capitalism(!) “forget the old models! here is the new!”

    Well guys, if EMI hadn’t invested in your career for the last 6 albums then you wouldn’t be in a position to do things like this. In fact after your first album didn’t do fantastically (regards the amount of cash that EMI invested in it) an indie label would have probably passed on investing in your next release.

    Your band are not the No Neck Blues Band, you’re not Robert Pollard and you’re certainly not Jandek! Those artists release music because they have to, usually on their own dime and always because they have something to say.

    Radiohead are a ‘record label model’ band. You needed that investment early on, to come out with your latest album in the blaze of indie-ness that was shouted by your PR releases time, I find it disingenuous and hypocritical.

    3) the brick-wall mastering of your last few albums on CD is abhorrent and a total cop-out to commercial pressures. If you want your album to be as loud on the radio as Britney, Jay-Z and whatever else wallpaper is out at the moment, good luck. But don’t pretend it’s an artistic statement, it’s purely about fitting-in with the now and in musical terms, it’s as trailblazing as a new Vanilla Ice record.

    4) By releasing the record in that way you were effectively saying, “we can afford to do it this way, if none of you pay for this record, we’ll still be around”.
    A new band doesn’t have this luxury, a less wealthy band doesn’t have this option either.

    So what are you saying by this? We’re the new establishment and we’ll do whatever the hell we want(?)

    By releasing music in this way, you were in effect telling people:
    a) music can be given away free, it doesn’t have inherent worth.
    b) here’s how to download music free on the web – what else can you find out there?

    That’s very dangerous.
    I’m surprised at the band’s naivety over IN RAINBOWS release, please, next time by all means think of a different model than the current broken down machine, but please, think about the other band’s and artists making music that don’t have the luxury of wealth that your band does.

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  66. Samantha Murphy

    19 September at 03:57

    Just so glad to hear there’s new Radiohead material coming.

    As an indie artist myself, I’ve just released a single on Tunecore after hearing great things. Going to use Soundcloud to help spread the word, but wish I had the audience of someone who released on a label and was indie afterward. It’s challenging to find your audience without a label behind you, despite the Internet and technology being amazing.

    If I were you, I’d stay indie forever and band together with other known bands. Collectively go to iTunes etc and demand a larger share just as the labels have done.

    Kudos to Radiohead, the best band in the world.

  67. ZW Radiohead fan

    19 September at 01:31

    I think that Radiohead should do a live stream where everyone listens to each song at the same time. Then after that, a link appears so you can download the album.

  68. brian

    18 September at 23:30

    I like the idea of an early vinyl release that has a download included. You should do it on a small label that could use some of the proceeds to help smaller bands get stuff out too. either way, I hope you drop it soon, so we can all have a listen. I could use some new Radiohead.

  69. Oliver

    18 September at 19:39

    Thanks very much for your comments, Colin. The release of In Rainbows was very exciting in that everybody got to hear it at more or less the same time, but I think you’ve kind of admitted that the quality of the music got ‘overlooked’. Although I think that was never the case for most Radiohead fans, from the media’s point of view and more casual music fans you’re absolutely right.

    I think the best advice is just concentrate on making the best possible album you can. That’s what Radiohead are good at so don’t worry about how it’s released. I would agree with the other comments though about the quality of the download. How about bypass Itunes altogether and release it from your website in lossless/uncompressed formats (FLAC/WAV/AIFF/ALAC) only. But please release it on physical formats as well! The box set idea last time was a great idea.

    Whatever you chose to do, I’m sure it will be great!

  70. Camp

    18 September at 18:53

    Don’t release the new album as an “app”.

  71. Brendan

    18 September at 18:33

    Very interesting essay Colin.
    I look forward to seeing how you release the songs this time around.

    I am very excited to hear the new album when it is released.


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  73. Devyn

    18 September at 16:05

    Thanks for the wonderful insight Colin. Great to hear you guys staying thoughtful and innovative about the current state of the music industry and release format, finding optimistic angles and retaining the realism that in my opinion have kept Radiohead among the forefront of true Art in music since Day 1. Looking forward to both the release format and, more importantly, the new release, couldn’t be more excited.

  74. martymankins

    18 September at 15:33

    First off, I enjoyed your words here, Colin. Very astute dialogue on the state of the music industry and music publishing.

    I paid $14 for In Rainbows when it came out because as a Radiohead fan, I felt it was a complete album, just like the others I had spent $14 on.

    As others have mentioned here with pretty much their only complaint, was that In Rainbows was only available in 160kbs. 256kbs is a current standard, with many artists going to 320kbs or FLAC or Apple Lossless formats. Obviously, a digital release of some type will happen for your next record and as long as these higher quality options are available, I think that will go a long way to telling fans that you are serious about their choices.

    Looking forward to the next record.

  75. Daniel

    18 September at 15:29

    Also, one thing that Greenwood doesn’t comment on here but which I think should be part of this discussion: what about releasing music digitally at even HIGHER quality than CD-quality?

    For years now we’ve set CD-quality (16-bit/44.1 khz) as the threshold. But this level is arbitrary and was only settled on based on the amount of data a plastic disc could hold. Now that nobody’s buying CDs anymore, and we keep getting faster internet connections and larger harddrive space, it’s time for bands to start releasing music at the quality they’re actually recording it at, rather than downgrading the quality after the fact to fit it on a disc, as they’ve been doing for so long.

    It’s ironic that all of this new technology has got us listening to music at even lower quality (mp3s) when it should have had the exact opposite effect!

  76. Daniel

    18 September at 15:17

    It’s great to hear someone else confirm my frustrations with iTunes. It IS clunky. It was counter-intuitive when it started and it’s never improved.

    Also, I can’t help but correct the misconception that Greenwood repeats here that Radiohead released In Rainbows with a pay-what-you-want system. What they actually did was leak the record themselves and ask people to pay for the leaked version; not exactly the same thing. Some months later they released the record in its true form, with higher quality audio and artwork. Even the In Rainbows box had a digital element with its second group of recordings and file of artwork, all of which could have been included on the initial pay-what-you-want download if the band had intended it as a definitive version. Instead, that first download came at an inferior mp3 compression quality, which confused fans at the time who thought they were paying for a legit release, because it was never meant to be the definitive version.

    What happened next was that true fans paid for the record twice (download, for the immediacy, Box, for the quality and extra content). Completists probably paid for it thrice when the band went further and released a single disc version of it in stores.

    I think what Radiohead did was brilliant. They thwarted the Leak Problem that they experienced with Hail to the Thief and which every modern band experiences with current releases where the impact of a release is diminished in advance by leaks. They said: someone’s going to rip this at a lower quality version and put it out before we can anyway. Why not beat them to the punch and make some money for it? It was a really smart move. But because it was communicated as a new Form in the releasing of records, it was also a little bit misleading. By the band’s actions they really demonstrated that not even THEY had faith in this system as a legitimate way to release music. And they also robbed themselves and fans of the highest-possible quality of experience when listening to the music for the first time, such as full quality audio and accompanying artwork, which is a shame because there’s nothing like the first time when it comes to good music.

    Love Radiohead! Love Collin Greenwood! Can’t wait for the next release.

  77. welly

    18 September at 12:20

    Great essay Colin.

    I was one of those people that bought the vinyl (disc box) edition of In Rainbows, so got the download for free.

    I would much rather own a vinyl copy of the new album, as would many other collectors, collecting digital media (mp3’s) just isn’t the same, nothing can beat that feeling of holding a fresh piece of wax in your hands, admiring the artwork, not to mention the smell too, so please, please, please make a vinyl version of the new album available to us!

    I’m excited for the new album now!!

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  81. Janusz

    18 September at 08:23

    Hi Colin,

    Nice essay, I just wanted to say that in my opinion you should not over complicate things, maybe the idea of releasing it through an indie record label would really be the simplest and best. I truly hope that you will release the songs as an album – with a title, artwork and so on. Please don’t release it as singles or ep’s or whatnot. And please, please release it asap, I just can’t wait:)

  82. Carlos Arrieta

    18 September at 08:22

    To me it sounds like you guys are heavily invested in the idea of an event that creates buzz around releases. Why not release 1 track a week for 12 weeks lets say. And that makes up the album. Release it at the exact same time from your website as streaming only, so that everyone experiences it at the same time (fans, journalist, haters, etc.). Then after it is done, activate it to make it available for purchase. Each track should have its own artwork (see: NIN’s Ghosts release – each song has an amazing photo that sets the mood for the song). You guys have enough draw that it will cause quite the stir on all devices, and to break up the “stale” danger that may build (knowing a new song is coming this week), you can twist and turn, and offer people a video that week instead of a new song, or DJ, or show some crazy video clips you guys have). Or better yet, give each song a face or personality. Meaning, you guys present thoughts, ideas, footage, of what the songs development was, what were the struggles, show some of the behind the scenes stuff. The S’* it you guys are asked of you a billion times in interviews, but presented and delivered in Radiohead manner (kinda like Radiohead TV but not as cryptic, more accessible to the general people. More stripped down, more personable). I think by showing the real human side of yourselves rather than the Goliath Radiohead, people will be more inclined to pay (more) for the songs. I’m not saying make it all charitable feeling, but I work with artist day in and day out and help them prepare for gallery events, and 11 times out of 10, they sell more work if they are present at their own opening, to meet, greet, and be able to talk about their work, than those that remain aloof, distant, and perched on “arts” high brow branch.

    You guys can even field questions from fans right after the presentation. That would be fantastic. If there was a way that you could capture video of peoples faces and reactions to the new songs as they are listening to them. That would be a great video. A sort of reverse documentary. The band capturing the fans rather than the usual perspective.

    I, like the rest of your fans, thank you for the great music you guys have given us. And we will be pleased with however you guys decide to push out your creations (love your bass playing all round Colin, but more songs like national anthem. . . and albums like KID A – please!).

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  84. Travis

    18 September at 07:34

    Perhaps throwing a “live release party” would be something meaningful.

    You and the guys could play all of the songs off of the new recording live via your website. And at the end of (or during) the broadcast, you could make it available for download.

    It’d be a way to connect with fans & maybe (somehow) you could set it up to where you could receive “live feedback”…

    Servers would most definitely crash :) So, I’m not sure how it’d all come together/work technically… And of course there would be time zone issues…

    I think everyone should have to pay for the download. You all (consistently) work hard on putting out groovy tunes :) The delivery of “In Rainbows” was innovative (and it worked), however, it might not be the best thing to do this go-around.

  85. tibbar

    18 September at 02:44

    if i cant hold the next radiohead record in my hand, then i don’t think there really IS a record.

    i hope that’s not what collin was implying.

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  88. Phil

    18 September at 01:22

    I hope the new record is released as a box set like the band put together for “In Rainbows.” I’m such a fan, Radiohead can put their grocery lists to music and I’ll still buy it!! Thank you for the wonderful work!!

  89. Shane Guiter

    18 September at 01:10

    I really enjoyed this essay. Looking forward to the surprise of great new songs and the method with which they will be released.

  90. rojedamena

    18 September at 00:28

    The medium is the message.

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  93. Michael

    17 September at 23:44

    I paid $4 for the download of ‘In Rainbows’. I would have paid more if the files were encoded at 256kps or higher, instead of the 160kps they were released as.

    I think Radiohead should either release it again first directly to fans, and then help out their favorite independent, and thrust the label into many more opportunities to sign other bands.

    By the way, John Peel was my hero. The radio show I do every week (Music For Listeners) is directly effected by his love of good quality music spanning new to old and in every genre possible. Since I first started listening to Peel myself in the late 80’s, I found myself wanting to do the same sort of show. Radio with no genre, bringing the newest music in, but also reminding you of the great music you may have missed in the past. That’s what I loved the most about Peel’s show….the genre jumps. I get to play what I want on my show, which in radio, a super rarity.

    You are welcome to host the show Colin….you and anyone else in the band that wants to take part. We’ve been having guest programmers on the show lately and we call it “The 180”. Ash, The Wedding Present, A Classic Education, Fanfarlo, The Spinto Band, and others have already taken part. You can contact me if you’re interested…..three hours of radio for you to program yourself. http://www.the180.info/

  94. Bryan

    17 September at 22:55

    Despite the recent complexity of the music scene, I truly believe that any format chosen to release new music will be successful. People want more Radiohead music, however they can get it.

  95. John

    17 September at 22:37

    Whatever you do, please also release the album on some sort of physical format. People like me need to have something tangible to look at and put on a shelf!!!

  96. Ryan

    17 September at 22:23


    I think you really nailed it when you talked about the coming of age of the internet. You and Radiohead have been an inspiration though out my relatively brief foray into playing music. If you’re unaware of the current underground trend in music in the States, you should check out catpeoplerecords.com

    There are many artists, like Vacation Dad, Panda Teeth, Birthdays, etc. who are putting their work out there for free on the internet. However, I don’t think most people realize that the music is much more impressive live. All of the artists I listed above perform live loops, often as solo musicians, building a complex wall of sound.

    People pay attention to you all, if you like what you hear feel free to share it, for that is the intention of distribution.

  97. Manik

    17 September at 22:15

    i mean in rainbows

  98. Manik

    17 September at 21:52

    what i want to know is, mr greenwood, when you downloaded the album onto your computer the morning from rainbows was released, how much did you pay?

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  100. Thom

    17 September at 21:48

    Reminded again why I’ve loved this band since 1994. (Yes, I missed out on Pablo Honey.)

  101. SubSickAlien

    17 September at 20:42

    Looking forward to the new album and whatever decision you guys choose for the release the next album (I know you will revolutionize how music is released once again).

  102. buruno

    17 September at 20:41

    Very insightful, mr. Greenwood, thanks!
    Spiritross has a good point as well. Despite all the fuzz around CD’s – commonly put as the only physical medium for selling music –, vinyl sales have been rising significantly. IMO, small labels like Dischord and Ubiquity, which have been doing this for a while, are gaining more and more attention, aside from being able to maintain themselves without depending exclusively on retail sales.
    I do listen to a lot of digital media along the day, but can’t barely wait to get home, put a record on the needle and relax.

  103. Spiritross

    17 September at 20:13

    1. Sign to Dischord Records
    2. Release the record on Vinyl
    3. Allow for mp3 download with purchase

  104. Angus

    17 September at 20:03

    Thanks Colin. As an aspiring musician its great to know that you guys are putting so much effort into moving the music industry into a better place. I really hope that these changes stick. Really looking forward to the new album as well. Thanks again.

  105. Andrew

    17 September at 19:38

    Thanks Collin, I look forward to hearing the new tunes – regardless of how they are released. Good luck condensing the essay into 140 characters.

  106. bruno

    17 September at 19:32

    A question … what’s the major …. LESSON or conclusion that, that you have earned with the “In rainbows Format” – you were surprised at all ?
    And the new songs ? More Krautrock influenced ou a little bit electronic driven music ??

    Great job…
    Hope that you’r ok !

  107. bruno

    17 September at 19:29

    Hi Colin

    great text , can’t wait for the next album …
    and like you wrote , the songs from In rainbows are the responsable to made the album, a New historical recording ….

  108. Mister Ease

    17 September at 19:10

    Thank you so much, Colin. It’s great to read the thoughts of a music-biz insider with lots to offer the rest of us. Can’t wait to read more from you over the years and especially can’t wait to hear the new tunes!

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