RadioheadSo who’s going to help break the back of the mega-music corporations by buying – at any price – at your price – for nothing – a download of the new Radiohead album In Rainbows? I did it this morning and I feel good about it. I’m now promised an email with a download URL for the entire album tomorrow.

For those who haven’t been paying attention to the world’s greatest art rock band, their new album is downloadable tomorrow – without the cooperation of any record company. You pay what you want. You can pay $.01. You can pay $10.00 – that’s what I did. They deserve it and I’d like to see this business model work. And get this, they don’t even have a record company any more. They’re supposedly taking bids on who will get their hard copies into the record stores. Have any S21 readers bought the album? How much did you pay?

FWIW, I currently give away for free, all of my albums and scores and as far as I know was the first musician in the world to do that, starting in 1991. I even caused the L.A. Times to write an article about the other Harrington, David, from Kronos, about how he was freaking out the music world by giving away music back in 1995. I had to call them and ask them to issue a retraction.

But the model I’m thinking of switching to for my albums and scores is this – pay what you want. I think it’ll work and at the same time, it’ll keep poor people, poor students, from being discouraged from learning and listening to my music. It’ll mean setting up some type of PayPal system and hiding from the tech-savvy haxxors but I don’t think it’ll be that much trouble. When I get it done, I’ll post an article here about how to do it. We can all use a little money, and this model nicely allows for a hit album to benefit the artist directly and financially. For kids without a credit card I’ll probably implement a questionnaire/honor system, forcing them to describe their deepest fears about music.

However, from where I’m sitting, unlike the rock world, the new music world isn’t burdened by the record companies. It’s burdened by referral networks, academic networks, and critics who refuse to pay attention to the online world. For the new music world to become truly independent, democratic and egalitarian it’ll take this type of new thinking that Radiohead has begun. By selling, even at any price, I believe it’ll create less of the appearance at my website, which is totally natural, that I can’t give this sh*t away. Haha…

Excuse the LOLCAT reference in the title of this article if you don’t get it. 🙂

P.S., the Coen Brothers movie shoot on our street in Brooklyn Heights I mentioned in comments a few weeks ago is finally over. Here’s some pics for anybody that is curious. It was exciting and exhausting. And our garden may never be the same.

31 Responses to “I Can Has In Rainbows Now Plz Tnk U?”
  1. William Sabatier says:

    Still here, though the Times-Picayune says the city’s going to be under water (a few inches, at least) in ten years…as may be a lot of places (gulp). So I’m shopping around for another city to move to by 2017. Loved your compositions I played late last night until my laptop battery ran down. Will listen to all of them eventually. I’ll write you more to your own email address. This is too public for anyone as paranoid as I. Interesting little dialog on Radiohead and economics you have going here, though. Bill

  2. Hey Bill! You still living in New Orleans? Metronome Records… wow that was a long time ago. Was Jeff Melancon the manager then of classical? You know he moved to NY and was classical manager at Tower Lincoln Center for a while…

  3. William Sabatier says:

    Hey, Jeff! Nice reading your prose, lo, these 20 yrs. after we worked together in the classical dept. at Metronome Records in N.O. Today’s NPR spot by Alex Ross was one I had to go back and hear again, of course, and it had a link to his own blog on 20th c. music, with a link to your own. Small world. Now to download some of your compositions!

    Best wishes,

    Bill Sabatier

  4. Hey Lawrence. Right now all the fake brick is gone and a big plastic sheet and supposedly a security guard are out there. Although last night, apparently the security guard was missing and has since been fired. Drama… Brooklyn style.

    Here’s a short video I took while we were trying to eat dinner. 😉 I climbed up the fake brick wall and shot the Coen Bros planning the next take.

  5. Hey Jeff — museums have grants, and successful pop groups have t-shirts and “baseball” caps — I don’t think those are going for free, last I checked.

    Cool pics of the Coen Bros. — I’d be curious to see what sprouts up in your garden next spring.

  6. david toub says:

    Seth, I purposely said xerox (with a lower case) because like kleenex, that has become a generic term. I almost wrote Windows rather than PC, but the reality is that with the exception of those PCs that run Linux, PC is synonymous in common parlance for a Wintel machine.

    You’re not quite correct about novels. If you lend me a book I haven’t read but really want to read, even if I then give it back to you, I’ve screwed the publisher (and author, to a lesser extent, since they’re already screwed by the publisher) by not buying the book myself. Under a strict interpretation of IP law, book loaning is not considered “fair use.” But then, there are some IP Nazis who feel that digitizing one’s own CD for use on an iPod does not constitute “fair use.”

    Again, you’ve given me a lot to think about, but I feel like we’ve hijacked this thread a bit (or else bored everyone else, since it’s just you and me right now). I just want to close by saying that IP protection has done much more harm than good. It’s stifled innovation, and probably creativity as well.

  7. Seth Gordon says:

    Do you believe that it’s wrong to make xerox copies of news articles and music scores? Have you ever borrowed a novel from a friend and gave it back to him or her? And if you had bought an album on cassette or LP, is it morally wrong or illegal to download the album from P2P rather than go to the trouble of digitizing it?

    Xerox copies: Yes, wrong. With some exceptions like out-of-copyright materials and such. I run a library – we deal with the photocopy issue quite a lot. Certain leeways are granted in some contexts – educational institutions being one of them – for making copies of excerpts. But you can’t photocopy or digitize an entire book or journal and give that out to your students without clearing copyright first. Lots of professors here completely ignore that, of course, because they have over-inflated senses of entitlement and figure they can do whatever the hell they want. And then I have to get all Johnny Law on their asses.

    (And, on a related subject to copyright, “photocopy” is the proper term, as there’s a trademark on the name “Xerox” and the Xerox corporation has spent millions of dollars trying to get people to know that it oughtn’t be used as a generic term, and that when used it should always be capitalized)

    (as opposed to the creators of Google, who have been only too happy with their verbification)

    Novels – yes, I have, but then that’s not the same situation. If you loan a friend a book, you can’t read it again as long as they still have it. The equivalent to digital “sharing” would be Xer- um, I mean photocopying the book and giving that to them.

    Downloading something you already own – not morally wrong in concept, no, though it is morally wrong for whoever you’re downloading it from to have put it out there in the first place. And if you download it using a seed protocol a la BitTorrent, you’re uploading it to others whether you like it or not.

    And PCs kick ass. Sometimes. Depends what you’re doing. Film editing? Mac. Running a server? PC. Sound? Both pretty decent. Though in all honesty, they’re both perfectly stable systems for whatever you’re doing nowadays.

    (Now, if you’d said Mac vs. Windows… might be another matter. I’ll agree that Vista blows like a Nor’Easter…)

  8. David Toub says:

    Seth, I think we’re sort of getting into a religious war over this. I think we’d be better off arguing Mac vs PC (of course, there’s really not much point to arguing that PCs are inferior. I mean, isn’t it obvious?).

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. But I would like to ask you to think over a few things as well. Do you believe that it’s wrong to make xerox copies of news articles and music scores? Have you ever borrowed a novel from a friend and gave it back to him or her? And if you had bought an album on cassette or LP, is it morally wrong or illegal to download the album from P2P rather than go to the trouble of digitizing it?

  9. Seth Gordon says:

    to paraphrase Conlon Nancarrow’s brother, I’m to the left of Che Guevara.

    Well, I don’t think of the Che as much of a lefty – maybe in his theoretical political philosophy on peper, but in reality “murderous fascist thug” I think is more accurate. Hell, George Bush is to the left of Che as far as I’m concerned.



    Had a longer response but I thought I’d distill it down its essence:

    First, we should be very clear about something: the word “share” in this context is nothing but spin. No one is “sharing” anything. To share, one must give of one’s own property to another at one’s loss. It implies a division of assets or time. When you share a chocolate bar with your friend, the portion which you give to them you no longer have. If you share a computer with your wife and children, you cannot all use it simultaneously. This “sharing” you speak of – at best – you might be able to call “copying” if you wanted to be nice about it. But it is not, and never will be, sharing.

    What really bothers me, though, are the excuses. The simple fact that so many people – generally good people, mind you – are reticent to face the simple fact that short-changing an artist is wrong, just because there’s no physical object. Cognitive neuroscientists have suggested that humans attach value only based on the tactile and visual – so, no cover art, no “object” to them. But even though sound does not take up spce, they know someone’s on the losing end – and so they ameliorate it with all these elaborate reasons why it’s really “good” for music. I guess to certain extent I can understand the urge – no one wants to think they’re doing something bad, something immoral, hurting someone, so they spin it any way they have to to absolve themself.

    But you know what? There’s no point in arguing whether it’s good or bad. Completely and utterly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter jack shit if you think that over time everything will turn out sunshine and roses and I think otherwise – all that matters is that when you “share” someone else’s work, it’s not your property to make that choice with. Do it with your own music, no one cares. Won’t get any argument from me. Go and work within whatever frickin’ paradigm you want – as long as it’s only your intellectual property you do it with. But the moment you upload or download someone else’s intellectual property without their permission, you have broken the moral code. It’s. Not. Yours. I mean, really, is that so freakin’ hard to suss?


    My view of utopia would be a situation where the music would be ubiquitous. Where people didn’t have to share it, but it would just be there for all to listen to if they want. Perhaps like a massive community iPod online or something…

    Yes, well, if there was no financial upside very few people would create content for your OmniPod. Not because artists are all capitalist bastards like me, just on account of they’d all be too busy working day jobs to have much free time for creative pursuits.

    Or I suppose you’d have the government subsidize it and pay the royalties…

  10. david toub says:

    My view of utopia would be a situation where the music would be ubiquitous. Where people didn’t have to share it, but it would just be there for all to listen to if they want. Perhaps like a massive community iPod online or something…

  11. Chris Becker says:

    People “share” music because there is a disconnect in our society between creative work and what it takes in dollars and cents to produce such a work. People who can afford to buy a CD don’t because they don’t want to, and people who can’t afford it don’t because they can get away with it. There’s no romance here.

    That said, I find both Radiohead’s model and the model David mentioned (where price increases according to interest in the music) intriguing. I’m quite comfortable with the fact that the landscape has changed…but I think the elephant in the room here is that “sharing” is usually held up as some utopian vision by people who do not make a living playing music. No disrespect – but I’m amazed this isn’t acknowledged more…

  12. david toub says:

    Seth, it’s one thing to call me a commie. But calling me a Republican???—now that’s really hitting below the belt. And is a Republican Communist even possible? That’s like being a Catholic Jew (the late Cardinal Lustiger being the one exception I can think of).

    Given how left-wing you found my comments on the Lebanon debacle last year, I’m surprised you think I could have converted to the dark side, Seth. I mean, to paraphrase Conlon Nancarrow’s brother, I’m to the left of Che Guevara.

    So Seth, your solution to all this is? I mean, if by your analysis total music sales, including downloads, have decreased every year since 2000, doesn’t that imply that the standard model (sell CDs or downloadable music and the consumer ponies up $$) just doesn’t work anymore? Isn’t it more sensible to find ways to work within the new paradigm of sharing music?

    While I can’t comment much on the corned beef sandwich analogy from experience, being a commie vegetarian and all that, I do understand your analogy. I would say that in general, free beats $0.99 any day. However, I suspect it’s more complicated than that. We don’t generally walk into the Museum of Natural History without donating at least something, even though one really could just walk in without paying anything. I think a large number of people would choose to pay at least something (maybe not $14.90 in 2006 dollars) for music by a composer that means something to these folks. Someone is paying money for the Radiohead album, right? Even some modern economic theories have started to include basic altruism as a factor to be considered. If given the choice, people will do the right thing for the most part. We all could walk out of a restaurant without tipping—it’s not illegal to not tip. Yet we all do (and if you don’t, you should—20% is a good target), not just because it’s expected but because it’s the right thing to do.

    There is a small audience overall for new music. Any way to get our music in listener’s hands is a good thing, even if it generates (initially) zero revenue. I can think of many software applications that started off free: IE, hotmail, google, etc. Charging people $15 or so for a CD or download of music where they might like 2-3 tracks but that’s it doesn’t seem to me to be a great model. That’s one reason why people have turned to sharing. Besides, have you never loaned a book to a friend? Isn’t that just as bad, in your theory, as giving them a MP3 over P2P? If not, what’s the difference?

  13. Seth Gordon says:

    but among people who share music, sales have gone upThere is data that supports my “commie” notion that P2P has benefitted music sales.However, among those folks who share/download music, CD sales have increased

    I have never seen a single ounce of empirical data to suggest that. In fact, it’s a bit difficult to argue that anything has benefitted music sales, since music sales are down. Like, as in, not up.

    The closest I’ve seen were a couple of polls – and, um, people are always honest when asked about breaking the law, right? (I was just giving her a ride, officer…)

    There’s no way to “prove” a direct causal relation – because there’s simply no way to know what’s inside people’s heads. But there’s only so long one can draw correlations between X and Y before lex parsimoniae leads one to causation – could be X to Y, Y to X or some “Z” factor which is causing both. But in this case, there has yet to be any outside “Z” factor that withstands scrutiny.

    Really now, is it a stretch to suggest that when something is available free, the average person would not simply take it rather than pay for it? I don’t see how anyone could debate that. If you had a choice between a free corned beef sandwich and a $5.00 corned beef sandwich, same quality, same trimmings… which would you take?

    As to the rest of your post – about decreased CD sales – well, I was talking about overall music sales, format had nothing to do with it. CD sales are going to decrease, no one denies that – just like LP and cassette sales did. Big whoop. But… when those formats went the way of the dinosaur, they were replaced by another product. That’s not happening this time around. What I’m talking about is how many recorded music products – CDs, DDs, whatever – are being purchased. And the facts are, that number has gone down every year since 2000.

    But I do want to touch on one aspect of CDs – because it’s a total myth that gets repeated ad infinitum which I’d like to clear up even if it has nothing do with the point I was making in the earlier post: the supposed backlash against high prices we’ve all heard so much about.

    Nominal average CD prices have changed very little in the last fifteen years, ranging from $12 – $15. Real prices adjusted for inflation, on the other hand, have actually decreased.

    Here’s some o’ them numbers:

    (Year / Avg Price / Nominal % Diff / Real % Diff)

    1992 $13.07
    1993 $13.14 0.6% -2.4%
    1994 $12.78 -2.7% -5.2%
    1995 $12.97 1.5% -1.3%
    1996 $12.75 -1.7% -4.5%
    1997 $13.17 3.2% 0.9%
    1998 $13.48 2.4% 0.8%
    1999 $13.65 1.3% -0.9%
    2000 $14.02 2.7% -0.6%
    2001 $14.64 4.4% 1.5%
    2002 $14.99 2.4% 0.8%
    2003 $15.06 0.4% -1.8%
    2004 $14.92 -0.9% -3.5%
    2005 $14.91 -0.1% -3.4%
    2006 $14.90 -0.1% -3.2%

    So… the average nominal CD price is about two bucks more than it was fifteen years ago. Please – that is about as far below the rate of inflation as you’ll find on any product. If you care to do the math, you’ll find that in 1992 dollars, the cost of an average CD in 2006 was only $10.40 – so… I call bullshit on the price issue.

    As to the Commie world-view – y’know, I might have been wrong about that. Seems to me you have more of a Republican “let the market decide” attitude on this one.

  14. Chris Becker says:


    You’re speaking as someone who does not need to generate a significant income from making music. Keep that in perspective.



  15. david toub says:

    ‘scuze me, Seth, but what’s wrong with a commie world view? 😉

    It was Daniel Moynihan who said “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” one of my favorite expressions. But Seth, the reason I qualified it (appropriately, I might add) with “probably” is because there are two sets of “facts” out there. There is data that supports my “commie” notion that P2P has benefitted music sales. And there is data that supports the tired, persecutory world view of the RIAA.


    We’ve had this thread before, with both sides presenting data to support both viewpoints. The problem is that both sets of data are largely correct. Overall, CD sales have decreased, but among people who share music, sales have gone up.

    Why is this, you might (and should) ask? Probably because of factors that are not directly related to P2P. There is nothing that proves a causal association between P2P and decreased CD sales. Rather, there is everything to suggest that CD sales have gone down overall because prices have gone up out of proportion to what many consider reasonable (CD’s are not price-elastic), and because much pop music lately has not been as compelling to a mass audience. Note that this is for pop music, since that’s the main driver of CD sales, not classical, and certainly not new music.

    However, among those folks who share/download music, CD sales have increased perhaps because these people are finding more music to create demand for their disposable income. One of the reasons why people hate buying CDs is that thy may be spending a lot of money for 1-2 tracks that they find compelling. However, when they download and sample a few more tracks, that might make them more likely to buy the next album that comes along by that artist or by a similar one. I think this works even better for most classical music, since it’s longer in duration and less likely to be downloaded by the masses. If someone was uncertain about, say, a really long composition and heard disc one as a download, that person is probably more likely to go out and buy the whole thing on CD or DVD since trying to download the entire thing is very arduous and just takes too long for most people.

    And as far as feeling bad for the CD market, I don’t. CDs are for all intents and purposes circling the drain, if not already dead. The paradigm that is going to win out is one where people can download what they want. It’s like LPs. They were great when they were the only option, and there may still be some place for CDs, like in libraries, etc. But I’d so much rather download an album and have it on my computer and iPod ASAP than have to schlep somewhere and buy a CD, or even order it online. What needs to happen is for liner notes to be downloadable on a standard basis. This would also be so much better for the environment.

    OK, so have I made my “commie” case?

  16. Seth Gordon says:

    My personal opinion is that it should be shareable in any case, since P2P has probably increased the amount of music sales, paradoxically, and also is a great way to get interest in one’s music.

    I love it when you make grand statements like that without any numbers to back it up. Well, you said “probably” – so I guess that ameliorates it a bit.

    For those unsatisfied with “probablies” based on notions that make tha proclaimer feel good, there are actual numbers out there which can be researched and analyzed. And, sorry to burst your bubble, but P2P has not increased anything: music sales – and by that I mean the combination of physical and digital download – have declined steadily for the last seven years. Whatever gains are being found in the digital marketplace – which sound amazing on paper, I mean, they’re up 54% from last year! – are such a small percentage of the overall market share that they can’t even begin to offset the losses in the physical market, which is down about 20% since 2006.

    Like that man said, you’re not entitled to your own facts. Facts are, music sales are down.

    I mean, whatever man – spin it however you need to to keep your Commie world-view snug and secure… 😉


    In other news: heard something about how the “special edition” of In Rainbows will be coming to a brick-n-mortar location near you soon, with a bonus CD of new material. Price tag? $80.00 – looks like those populist Brits are covering their financial asses by gouging the collector’s market on the backside.

  17. Steve Layton says:

    Don’t worry Jeff, “Totally Fuzzy” & etc. will take care of that 😉 …

  18. One thing that bothers me a tad – since I’ve ‘purchased it’. I noticed now in some press that they’re saying the ‘final versions’ will be on the CD. So I paid for a preview? That’s a little disingenuous… I’m guessing that there won’t be much difference, but still, they need to get their story down pat. If what they’re talking about is that they released a version which sounds good at 160KPBS, well that’s cool. But if there’s going to be edits and stuff jeez…

  19. Everette Minchew says:

    I am enjoying In rainbows. It is more stripped down than their previous four albums. Some of the live versions of the new tracks that i have heard online are completely different than the final album cuts. It is wonderful though.

    Jeff, I also looked online yesterday to see if any of the album had been leaked online, but no luck. They were able to keep this one under lock ad key better than Hail to the Theif and Thom Yorke’s The Eraser.

  20. It freakin’ rocks. How about that? No handling fee! Wow…

    You know, I woke up yesterday morning… started to load up Soulseek to see if it had been leaked yet and then thought oh what the hell… I’ll give the boys a break.

    What’s wrong with me… 😉

  21. Ian Moss says:

    Nope, no handling fee. Y’all got screwed! 😉

    Just downloaded the album, can’t wait to start listening. Any reviews yet?

  22. Yeah big families… check out this text from their website: Suggested General Admission supports the Museum’s scientific and educational endeavors and includes 45 Museum halls and the Rose Center for Earth and Space. By purchasing these tickets online, you are agreeing to pay the full suggested admission. However, should you wish to pay less than the suggested admission, you may do so by purchasing the tickets at any general admissions desk at the Museum.

    No mention of paying a penny of course.

    Also Alex Ross reblogged this article. 🙂

  23. david toub says:

    Yeah, museums do have other means of support, like many orchestras and new music ensembles, but none of that is enough to fund their operations, which is why they rely heavily on user donations or fees. And good that some folks are paying ($100???—really???) something when they go to the museum. But like music groups, any local/state/federal support is totally inadequate.

    My personal opinion is that it should be shareable in any case, since P2P has probably increased the amount of music sales, paradoxically, and also is a great way to get interest in one’s music.

  24. Well the museums get huge grants from local, state and federal groups and hide the fact you can pay what you want. I see big families going into the MNH paying $100 and then I drop a penny in. It’s kinda disingenuous, but I know how it helps.

    One question to you guys that bought the album? Are you going to share it with friends since you can get it for free? I’m thinking no.

    Just curious, Ian, do they charge the 45c handling fee when you pay nothing?

  25. david toub says:

    Good luck, Ian—hopefully it will take you less time than it took me (5 years in night school). But Radiohead is actually going to maximize his profits, because in addition to supply and demand, he has people’s inherent altruism working for him. That’s different than the ethos that is in force with P2P, in which free beats $0.99 any day. In the case of the radiohead model (for lack of a better term), people feel like he’s giving them leeway as an artist, and they’ll probably outperform in terms of what they pay. At the very least, most will pay something. It’s like how many museums work, including the American Museum of Natural History in NYC—you pay what you want. It seems to work for them, which is why they continue to do it.

    I just posted a few of my works on after being apprised of this site by the most excellent pianist and fellow Philadelphian, Hugh Sung. When you post your music, it starts off priced as free, but it goes up (never above $0.99 I believe) based on other’s recommendations. It’s an interesting model. I prefer to give it away, only because I have a psychologic issue with selling my art, but that’s my neurosis. However, I’m curious to see how it gets priced (the first $5.00 appropriately goes to, so I doubt I’ll be seeing any revenue in my lifetime), especially since all of it is music I give away gratis on my own site.

  26. Ian Moss says:

    So I’m taking this economics class right now and they’re basically telling us about how the goal of everything is to maximize profit. (For those of you who haven’t heard, I’m currently in the first year of the MBA program at the Yale School of Management. More about that in a couple of weeks.) Thus, in the spirit of my education, I decided to pony up my profit-maximizing bid of $0. Seems to have worked–I got the same email as everyone else about the download. Strangely, I also don’t feel bad, even though I love Radiohead…maybe it’s because I’m pretty broke at the moment so I’ll take my breaks wherever I can get them? In any case, I am also curious as to how this business model works out. As it happens, my reading for class tomorrow was all about how price discrimination (i.e., charging different prices to different consumers, according to their ability/willingness to pay) can lead to both greater profit and greater benefit for consumers than charging everyone the same price. However, this model assumes that consumers who are willing to pay more for a product will do so even if they have the option of paying less, which is contrary to economic theory. We’ll see. Will all of you prove econ wrong? I’d love to see it! 🙂

  27. Lanier says:

    I ponied up $5, too (plus the fee they tack on). I have to say, I probably wouldn’t have bought the album had it not been released this way. I seem to be the only person in the world who’s been disappointed by Radiohead’s post-OK Computer output.

  28. Gotta love how their sales unit is called W.A.S.T.E. of course after Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 –

  29. Everette Minchew says:

    I pre-ordered my copy last week. I paid $20 for my copy. I do not feel like I overpaid, and I can’t wait to hear it.

  30. Just got an email from them. It’s a big zip file with 10 160KBPS MP3’s. We’ll be able to download it tomorrow morning UK time.

  31. radioheadfan says:

    I paid $5 last week for it and I didn’t feel like I was gyping them. I think it’s a great model. Is it going to be like a set of MP3’s or a zip file or what?