Monday, March 3, 2008

Surprise! New Music!

Nine Inch Nails released a new instrumental double album last night.

Yeah, just like that. One minute their website had tour dates and the next it displayed a link to download this new album for five dollars.

Nobody really cares too much about instrumental albums, true, but the fact still stands: Nine Inch Nails, previously notorious for taking as many as six constipated years between releases, just dropped two hours of new music in the same way other bands might announce a new t-shirt design.

The internet has destroyed the traditional model of releasing new music.

It used to be so simple. A band would go in the studio, record a bunch of songs, and submit the cream of the crop to the record label, who would then package the album and release it to the public, sometimes after a lead single with accompanying video had been serviced to radio stations. Once the band had toured awhile and as much money had been squeezed out of the album as deemed possible, the band would start writing new material and the process would begin anew.

Not all bands in all genres followed this model, of course, but the point is new music was generally released every couple of years, with no small amount of accompanying fanfare and money burned. Each album took great financial investment. Each album was The Next One from the band that brought you The Last One.

Then along came the internet.

When Radiohead announced last fall that--surprise!--the new album was done and would be downloadable in a couple days I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. What, no slow build-up of promotion and teasers? No lead in single, no video? No Tuesday lunch trip to Best buy on release day to hold the plastic jewelcase in my hands and study the track listing as I waited in line at the register? Does this album even count?

Hell yes it did. Not only did Radiohead release the album of the year, but by distributing it online they guaranteed that everyone would hear it.

And now Nine Inch Nails. Trent's been hinting about this for awhile, of course, and the Saul Williams disc was a dress rehearsal of sorts, but last night he did it, just like that.

"I've got a new album you had no idea I was working on and here it is."

A sudden instrumental double album (or, more appropriately, a quadruple-E.P.). Written over a tumultuous ten weeks and released without any of the surrounding fanfare and baggage, with hint of more on the horizon.

Can he do that? Does it even count?

The dying questions of an obsolete mindset.

Just like that.

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