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CMU’s Setlist podcast discusses the legacy of Radiohead’s In Rainbows ten years on

By | Published on Monday 16 October 2017

Radiohead

Among the various discussions on this week’s Setlist podcast, CMU’s Andy Malt and Chris Cooke look at the legacy of Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’, and its pay-what-you-want release, ten years on. The record was originally self-released by the band in 2007, of course, as a download where fans could name the price they paid.

At the time, there was much discussion about what this release strategy meant for the future of the music industry, which was then still dealing with plummeting record sales, while adapting to the download era and still working out what opportunities digital music offered. A decade later, Malt and Cooke go back over those arguments – both positive and negative – to see if Radiohead really did change the world.

Back in 2007, there were those who claimed that Radiohead had just revolutionised the recorded music business, some going as far as to claim that this direct-to-fan release strategy could bring on the end of the record companies. There were also those who said that Radiohead had ruined everything with their pay-what-you-want policy, especially for cash strapped grassroots indie artists, by planting the seed in consumers’ minds that music had no intrinsic value.

“Was it genius?” asks Cooke on the show, noting questions that were widely posed, both in 2007 and as the tenth anniversary arrived last week. “Did they screw over all those artists? Were they setting a new agenda? I think the answer to all of those questions is… not really”.

“It was really a gimmick”, adds Malt, of major artists offering their entire album on a pay-what-you-want basis. “It’s probably something you can only do once. If Radiohead had released their next album in the same way, everyone would have just said, ‘oh, that’s just that Radiohead thing again’ and it wouldn’t have been so interesting. People probably wouldn’t have been talking about it ten years later”.

However, that’s not to say ‘In Rainbows’ wasn’t a sign of things to come. After all, many artists, especially grassroots acts, now routinely offer pay-what-you-want on their Bandcamp profiles. “It was less about playing with digital and downloads and more about playing with this idea of direct-to-fan”, says Cooke of the ‘In Rainbows’ venture. “Bands do now have this direct relationship with core fanbase, and that’s an innovation since the rise of the web. And so, with ‘In Rainbows’, Radiohead were really pioneers in direct-to-fan”.

He continues: “I still think that the record industry is yet to fully capitalise on direct-to-fan. There are certain artists who do it really well. But, in the main, I still think that there are huge opportunities to get more money out of core fans who would gladly spend £10 a month with an artist, if there was something to spend £10 on – rather than just a new record every two years, a show every eighteen months, and a t-shirt at the show”.

“If ‘In Rainbows’ has any legacy” notes Malt, “it’s that it gave a legitimacy to direct-to-fan that has definitely grown over the last ten years, but still has a lot of growing to do”.

You can listen to the full discussion on ‘In Rainbows’ – plus chat about Cloudflare’s problems with pirates and Ticketmaster’s new research into the grime industry – by subscribing to Setlist wherever you get podcasts. Or you can listen here:



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