I've been a fan of Nine Inch Nails since Reznor's first album, Pretty Hate Machine monopolized my tape cassette player back in 1990 (I didn't have a CD player back then). I can't say I've bought every album he's ever produced, but I have bought a lot of them.
That's why I checked out an article on Australia's Herald Sun when it popped up on the Digg main page. In it, Reznor discussed a number of subjects, among them modern music sales and its difficulties.
First and foremost, if you ever wondered how musicians felt about music piracy, Reznor makes it clear that he doesn't like it.
I steal music too, I'm not gonna say I don't. But it's tough not to resent people for doing it when you're the guy making the music, that would like to reap a benefit from that.
That being said, Reznor immediately went into what he thought the music industry was doing wrong from a sales standpoint, and it's hard to argue with him (do note: prices are in Australian dollars, which is currently around 1.25 to the US dollar, according to xe.com):
On the other hand, you got record labels that are doing everything they can to piss people off and rip them off. I created a little issue down here because the first thing I did when I got to Sydney is I walk into HMV, the week the record's out, and I see it on the rack with a bunch of other releases. And every release I see: $21.99, $22.99, $24.99. And ours doesn't have a sticker on it. I look close and 'Oh, it's $34.99'. So I walk over to see our live DVD Beside You in Time, and I see that it's also priced six, seven, eight dollars more than every other disc on there. And I can't figure out why that would be.
Reznor had the chance to speak to a few executives with his label about why his music cost so much. After getting past the fact that packaging didn't justify a $10.00 surcharge, they admitted to him that...
Basically it's because we know you've got a core audience that's gonna buy whatever we put out, so we can charge more for that. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy it. True fans will pay whatever.
Expletives followed, and Reznor later proposed what he would prefer to do if he didn't have one more album required under his contract with the label:
If I could do what I want right now, I would put out my next album, you could download it from my site at as high a bit-rate as you want, pay $4 through PayPal. Come see the show and buy a T-shirt if you like it. I would put out a nicely packaged merchandise piece, if you want to own a physical thing. And it would come out the day that it's done in the studio, not this "Let's wait three months" bulls---.
Digital music distribution rocks.
These are all things that are possible now, given the way the Internet has permeated every aspect of our lives. Would his music be traded on pirate networks? Perhaps, but then again, at $4.00, more might opt for legal music, though it could still be costly if you are downloading hundreds of albums a month. That's not inconceivable. Apple has noted through its own research that most iPods are filled to the gills with music. I would hazard a guess that it's not mostly legally-purchased music.
Then again, Reznor and Nine Inch Nails are a global brand that has fans who will make it a point to pay for NIN product. He achieved that status through the promotional machine of a major label. Reznor may now have the name recognition that enables him to strike off on his own in future, but that doesn't erase the benefit of having spent time on a major label.
There is still plenty of scope for labels in future music sales. Their marketing and sales prowess is nothing to sneeze at. However, the ability for more musicians to manage their own promotion and online sales creates alternatives that reduces the power of major labels during negotiations.
It's no longer a situation where you have to take that 15 year label contract or continue to work at McDonalds. That's a good thing for music, and could well lead to lower-priced media content.