Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Trent Reznor shows the way forward in music marketing

Trent Reznor has a band called Nine Inch Nails.Quite good, by my muso brother's reckoning. What interests me more is how he has become a legend in the music industry - loved by those who believe power should reside with the artists and reviled by those who exploit the artists and alienate the fans - the recording industry.

Reznor criticised Universal Music Group (parent company of the band's record label, Interscope Records) for their pricing and distribution plans for the NIN album Year Zero ('07) He said the company's retail price "Absurd" and said "as a reward for being a 'true fan' you get ripped off","the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more."

In September 2007, Reznor continued his attack on Universal Music Group at a concert in Australia. He urged fans to "steal" his music online instead of purchasing it legally. "Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin'."

Needless to say Reznor's comments made news, infuriating the recording industry and the band split from Interscope Records.

The guy is a legend. The video above does the forensics on how Reznor has developed a successful business model that tips the old music industry model on its ear.

In essence Reznor succeed using the following formula:


where CwF = Connect with Fans
RtB = give them a Reason to Buy
and be rewarded with money.

One of Reznor's first acts of CwF was to place a code on tour T-Shirts, when highlighted letters were combined they spelled out 'Iamtryingtobelieve'. It didn't take long for fans to figure this would lead to a web site. on the site fans were engaged in further decoding what it all meant.

Reznor also irritated his record company executives by leaving flash drives in bathrooms at concerts containing unreleased NIN materia, to be found by fans who, naturally soon began sharing through peer to peer networks. RIAA responded with threats and 'take down notices'. This did nothing to endear RIAA to fans.

But Reznor also offered fans Reasons to Buy physical editions of his tunes - he created a CD that changed colour when it heated in the CD driver - an experience impossible to duplicate or share.

Other RTBs included extra features and benefits.

When he released his next album the first 9 songs could be downloaded for free. Is this guy insane? I hear you cry. Well, no. in short order the album and its variations ranging from a $10 double disk set to a $300 deluxe boxed set - which included a DVD/BlueRay and book, personally signed by Reznor which took less than 30 hours to sell out and raised $750,000. NIN made 1.6 million from direct sales - all the while also giving his music away for free. NIN's album also became a best seller on Amazon.com.

He has innovated in other ways - including profiling his fans by asking them to complete a 10 page survey.

When he release The Slip album sales data was overlaid onto google maps to dramatically display to fans where the NIN tribe was distributed around the planet and building a sense of community.

Reznor uses the web to promote live concerts, the ultimate NIN experience. He not only promotes his own work but also the supporting acts touring with him - who also offer their music for free on a sampler.

He creates community all the time - online through forums, chatgroups and wiki. Fans can also upload the photos and video they have taken at concerts to Flickr, which are aggregated and displayed on the NIN website.

Recently he released hundreds of gigabytes of high definition concert footage with the comment that '..some enterprising fans might make something pretty cool."

He's a genius. But it is nothing that brands, large and small couldn't do (other musicians too)- if only you can shake of fear and the illusion of power and control.

Here's an interview with the man himself: watch and learn people. Watch and learn.

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