Still, in all the hubbub over the band's decision late last year to let fans decide how much -- or if -- they wanted to pay for the CD "In Rainbows," Radiohead's other innovative move earlier this month somewhat got lost in the social media shuffle. But anyone looking at how they might engage their consumer base using social media -- especially those who haven't followed every permutation of the music business in the age of the download -- should study this effort. Even if most entities don't have the great content to work with that Radiohead does.
A quick recap: on April 1 -- no fooling -- Radiohead offered up five "stems" of the song "Nude" for 99 cents apiece on iTunes. Essentially these were different tracks to make up the song -- bass, drums, vocals and so on. The objective was to let fans remix the song and post their creations to radioheadremix.com. Even Thomas Dolby decided to play, adding in a few sounds of his own -- as was permitted by the band. (Thanks to Bill Green at Make the Logo Bigger for that tip.)
You could argue this is a greater leap than merely giving content away because, if you believe that some artists value their content more than money, giving people the tools to mess with what you've created takes some cojones. This practice views the original content creation as the mere starting point for what happens to it once it is embraced. Some artists dabble in this area, but most don't. Just ask J.K. Rowling, who has been spending quality time in a Manhattan courtroom lately trying to fight the publication of a Harry Potter encyclopedia by a rabid fan. One can only wonder what that fan thinks of his favorite book series now.
In Radiohead's case, the band is hosting the remixes at radioheadremix.com, and asking consumers to vote on their favorites. As has been the case with so many consumer-generated commercials, the most popular so far is made by professionals -- an up-and-coming band called Holy Fuck currently has the most popular remix, which, as of this writing, is closing in on 9,000 votes.
To goose the voting, the band has also created a widget that remixers can download to their Facebook and MySpace pages, which allows people to play their remix and vote for it. So far, more than 1800 remixes have been submitted. Apple's desktop music studio GarageBand plays a substantial role as well. People who bought all of the stems during the first week of the promotion were sent an access code to open up GarageBand if they wanted to use it -- though in this age of promotion and content-how-you-want-it, no one was required to use the Apple app.
What Radiohead is doing isn't a first. In fact, some have complained that other bands, like Jane's Addiction, have done all this and not charged fans a penny. The Synthtopia blog said the promotion "stinks of crap to me."
But I still believe that artists are allowed to charge a measly six bucks for a whole lot of remixing fun. It's even fun for those of us who don't want to remix as well, because we get to wallow in a sea of partially consumer-generated ear candy -- which I did yesterday morning.
From a commercial standpoint, what would make this promotion perfect is that it would sell CDs -- but the very technology that makes the promotion possible also does an end-run around the old way musicians used to make money. I'd imagine that the selling of "stems" to music aficionados is a pretty miniscule revenue stream. Perhaps there's slightly better money in what Radiohead might be making from Apple, though I'm not sure any money is exchanging hands between the two.
Another idea: Why don't they sell the "Nude" remixes with a cut of the revenue going, of course, to the remixers? The band has said they're going to listen to the best of the submissions. Who knows? Maybe that's the plan.