Saturday, January 12, 2008

I'm All Up In Trent's Business

If you haven’t noticed I have been very interested in the business of music lately. I just think that it’s a really interesting time in the music industry. A lot of external forces are making it difficult to continue to operate record labels in the same way they have in the past. Additionally, musicians have more options than they ever did before. Because of these factors I wonder if this trend of artists and labels making less money will continue or if its just an adjustment period. If I had to vote I would think that it is the former. And guess what? That is a GOOD thing. The best music, and frankly almost all really good music, was created as a form of expression. Its only when your musical choice is dictated by your career ambitions do you start to see the ugly side of popular music and the business culture that surrounds it.

So where is the balance? How can there be a system where artists make money and can still be as creative as they like? How can record companies (and all of the other people who make a living in the business) still generate sizable revenue without turning the music into a commodity? All of these questions are being figured out right now. However, where I’ve struggled is not having any real hard facts to base assumptions on. The article I posted by David Byrne helped a lot. Now, Trent Reznor has chimed in about the recent release of Saul Williams’ new album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, which he produced.

Here is what Trent posted on his website (

As of 1/2/08,
154,449 people chose to download Saul's new record.
28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning:
18.3% chose to pay.

Of those pay

3220 chose 192kbps MP3
19,764 chose 320kbps MP3
5338 chose FLAC

Needless to say Trent was disappointed:

I have to assume the people knowing about this project must either be primarily Saul or NIN fans, as there was very little media coverage outside our direct influence. If that assumption is correct - that most of the people that chose to download Saul's record came from his or my own fan-base - is it good news that less than one in five feel it was worth $5? I'm not sure what I was expecting but that percentage - primarily from fans - seems disheartening.

So which way is better? I am going to make the following assumptions:

  • 100% of the albums he sold in 2004 were via CD’s, not via digital download
  • The artist made $1.60 per record (per David Byrne’s notes)
  • The cut that his “team” (managers etc.) get is the same either way

So here is the revenue Saul Williams generated based on my assumptions:

So you would think that the digital is the way to go? I wouldn’t agree. I’m sure for Radiohead it makes sense but for Saul and Trent it probably did not make FINANCIAL sense. Even though he made almost 3 times the revenue he had to pay for all the costs associated with the album (I'm assuming the record company paid most of those costs the first time). This is exactly the point Trent Reznor makes:

Add to that: we spent too much (correction, I spent too much) making the record utilizing an A-list team and studio, Musicane fees, an old publishing deal, sample clearance fees, paying to give the record away (bandwidth costs), and nobody's getting rich off this project.

Saul's music is in more peoples' iPods than ever before and people are interested in him. He'll be touring throughout the year and we will continue to get the word out however we can.

So - if you're an artist looking to utilize this method of distribution, make of these figures what you will and hopefully this info is enlightening.


So what’s the silver lining here? Well people are listening to the album which means he’ll do much better on tour (where artists make their real money) than before. Also, Saul tells Cnet he isn’t disappointed with the results and he’s happy that people are listening to his music (lots of good stuff in that article by the way). In fact, Saul says that its too early to really judge the sales and humorously points out that Trent is just a bit of a gloomy guy in general. Good to see he has a sense of humor.

UPDATE: on the Niggy Tardust order page this was just posted: We have removed the FREE option from our site as it was limited to the first 100,000 customers. For the highest quality download and a 33 page PDF of original album artwork and lyrics, please complete the form below and support The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!

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