OK Computer

Radiohead @ The V Festival 2006, originally uploaded by Guy Eppel.

Since the early days of the illegal music download debate, Radiohead have been on the side of change. Whilst bands like Metallica were teaming up with record company execs and filing spurious lawsuits, Radiohead were showing their support for Shawn Fanning and the Net World Order.

I remember thinking at the time that it was an extremely progressive stance for a band to take, considering that they personally stood to lose a lot of money from peer to peer file sharing. But today they have done something much bigger than nailing their colours to the mast; something that I believe will one day be viewed as a defining point in the digital music era. Their new album, In Rainbows, is available for download at whatever price the user chooses to pay for it. And yes, in case you were wondering, that includes downloading it for free!

Some have referred to it in an off-hand way as nothing more than a brilliant marketing stunt (presumably these are superficial marketing types who view everything in the world through tiny little ‘marketability’ prisms). Others label it as an interesting social experiment, which indeed it is (I, for one, am very interested to know how people exercise their freedom to choose).

But, for my money (or not as the case may be), it’s much more than that. I believe it has profound implications for the future of music and many other forms of electronic content – especially if it proves to be financially successful. Admittedly, the central idea behind today’s launch is not revolutionary. Software programmers and the open source community have used this model for some time now – the ‘donate if you value what we do’ model – but it is radical because it is taking that ethos into the hitherto capitalistic world of mainstream consumer culture. And I believe that will have far-reaching consequences.

What Radiohead have understood from the outset is that swimming against the digital tide is ultimately futile – that it is much better to embrace change and to go with the flow. That’s why they are now blazing trails where others will soon follow.

Without question, it is yet another dirty great nail in the coffin of the music establishment. They must be chewing their fingers off at the moment. And funny as this may sound: after this latest development, in 10 years time, Apple’s iTunes music store might just turn out to be part of that crumbling, old-world infrastructure too.

So, go on, it’s really up to you:


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