Self-publishing in music can work

Trent Reznor, the one-man band that is Nine Inch
Nails, may
have found a formula that works for online music sales. Last year he
split from
his record label Universal/Interscope and decided to go independent. In
first effort, Reznor has released a 36-track “album” (that term seems
so anachronistic now) called “Ghosts I-IV” and is selling it online. 

“Ghosts I-IV” comes with five pricing options:

  • Free downloads of the first nine tracks, DRM-free, plus a 40-page
    PDF documenting the album.
  • $5: All 36 tracks in a variety of digital formats, no DRM, a
    40-page PDF.
  • $10: The full download plus a double-disc set, packaged in a
    Digipak with a 16-page booklet, to be shipped on April 8.
  • $75: Deluxe Edition with all 36 tracks for download plus Ghosts
    I-IV in a hardcover fabric slipcase containing two audio CDs and a Blu-Ray disc
    of Ghosts I-IV with all tracks in multi-track 96 kHz 24-bit stereo and
    accompanying slideshow. Ships May 1.
  • $300 Ultra-deluxe limited edition package: The Deluxe
    edition plus a four-LP set on 180-gram vinyl, which is packaged in a fabric
    slipcase. Two limited-edition Giclee prints are included; package is numbered
    and signed by Trent Reznor. Limited to a run of 2,500, and one piece per

So far it seems to be working, as the $300 ultra-super-duper
set is sold out, meaning $750,000 in sales for just the top end product alone,
and it all goes to Reznor. The average CD royalty is in the range of $1 to $1.60,
so for Reznor to make the same amount, he’d have to sell 468,000 to 750,000 CDs
minimum, which he usually did until the primary means of music acquisition
became theft.

It’s nice to see an artist bypassing the incompetent labels.
But there’s a little problem. It’s called the first step. Nine Inch Nails is an
established band. Heck, its first album came out when I was in college (way to
make yourself feel old, Andy). An established artist like NIN or Radiohead can
do this, but what about the newbies? 

Reznor’s old label Universal in 2002 signed a young band from
Utah called Acroma. They produced
one promising, little-heard album, called “Orbitals,” but never made
it on the road due to chaos at the label. They gave up in frustration and
disbanded, with the rhythm section quitting music entirely.

So we have a little problem: how does a band get to NIN’s
status so they can release a “Ghosts I-IV” in the first place?

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