Radiohead Economics

If one picks up any current magazine dealing with the music industry in any way, be it from a business, critical, or fan boy perspective, one will inescapably run into an article or series of articles dealing with the recent release of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” as well as the huge deal that Madonna has recently signed. Both are looked at by those outside the industry as indicative of what we can expect from a 21st century music business and by those inside as the death knell of profitability within the industry. Of course, the fact that Radiohead released an album with absolutely no press lead-in and then charged fans anything that the fans felt like giving them, does seem like quite a dramatic turn of events. However, it would be foolish to believe that Radiohead has done anything that will bring down the machinations of the music industry as a whole, and in all likelihood, might actually be forging a way for the industry to revive its’ plunging profitability.

All of this boils down to the economics of the market for music. The industry has been suffering horribly since Napster first began the world’s obsession with downloading music for free in the late 1990s. Lawsuits, piracy protection, and simple finger pointing have all gotten the industry absolutely nowhere as sales have continued to fall. Some fault the industry for not developing talent that is in any way interesting and simply trotting out ‘manufactured’ pop music that they think will sell. There is some validity to this line of reasoning but the real reason for the problems within the industry have much more to do with pure market economics than anything else.

Demand for music, despite the sales figures for material CDs and DVDs, has actually increased since Napster began hurting sales figures. Music is much more accessible in today’s modern ‘click it and its here’ world and music fans are taking advantage, amassing huge collections of music which would be unaffordable if money was actually paid out for each piece. This increase in demand usually, in simple economic terms, leads to a new market equilibrium with a higher price and a higher quantity produced, leading to a larger amount of profit (using a standard microeconomic model of supply and demand of the market for music). This is what the big wigs of the music industry are expecting to see, and the fact that these larger profits are not appearing is what is leading to the panic within the industry. (Note: I’m using the term ‘profits’ to describe the short-run and with the caveat that it is used to describe higher output and price compared with a previous time period. Thinking macroeconomically, in the long-run there are no actual profits as the market moves into long run equilibrium.)

So what is the matter? What externality is preventing the effects of an outward shift in demand from positively impacting the music industry?

The answer, to quote Raiders of the Lost Ark: “They’re digging in the wrong place!”

The demand for music has, indeed, increased, but the demand for physical units of music (CDs, tapes, records, DVDs) has greatly diminished. Thus, the demand curve has shifted to the left, resulting in the problems we see in the industry. So, what does this have to do with Radiohead and their “pay what you want” CD release?
In a standard model, there are two ways to offset a decrease in demand: shift the supply curve outwards or increase the quantity demanded at a given price. Increasing quantity demanded is very difficult to do and shifting the supply curve outwards (producing more CDs) does not necessarily mean that CD sales would increase. Radiohead managed to deftly increase the quantity demanded by doing several extremely important things:

1) They circumvented any leaking of their album by releasing the album online themselves.
2) They released the album at a (relatively) low bit rate.
3) They charged a high amount for a special box-set with extra songs.
4) They plan to also release the album in a standard CD format through a label early in 2008.

Releasing the album and not charging an actual rate for it is the most important part of these different aspects, because they, in essence, leaked their album themselves. This doesn’t seem to be important in changing the quantity demanded because so many people didn’t pay a single thing, but the people that didn’t pay for the download are the same people that would not have bought the album in droves in a CD format. Those that did pay for the download are most likely going to also buy either the CD in its standard release, the box-set, or both, resulting in Radiohead basically charging people a higher price rate than the sticker on any CD purchased actually states. Radiohead also served to further this ‘double charging’ by releasing “In Rainbows” at a bit rate much lower than would be found on a standard CD, meaning that people who want to hear the album in its true glory will be forced to pay for a hard copy of it.

The self-release basically amounts to a hidden charge, and the beauty of it is that Radiohead really doesn’t even need a high rate of people paying for the ‘free if you want it’ download (by some accounts 2/3 didn’t pay) because any amount of money actually paid is still gravy on the mashed potatoes of CD and boxed-set sales to come. The real question is whether the free downloads will impact the actual sales figures of the standard CD release. It will be interesting to see what truly transpires, but even if the sales suffer a bit, it makes logical sense that the sales would be similar because of the way the market has worked since Napster. Nearly all major, and most minor, releases have been leaked in advance of their actual release dates and, since Radiohead in essence leaked the album themselves, their CD sales should continue to be just about what they would have sold regardless of the early release. This just further fortifies the theory that Radiohead have managed to increase the quantity demanded at the given price of their actual CD.

Of course, Radiohead is a very successful and, by all means, a ‘huge’ act and the economics might not relate to smaller, indie bands, but they really don’t have to. The indie community has always, and will continue, to survive on word of mouth, ticket sales, and critical praise. The real problems in the music community are with the profitability of the major labels, which don’t profit off of illegal downloads like the indie community can. Radiohead’s precedent is a sound model which should be verified as a viable way to increase success in the music industry in 2008, but its success also depends on the industry managing to curb leaks and increasing the agility to release albums online quickly and change with the evolving market.


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Black Kids - Wizard of Ahhhs EP

Who here wants to have some fun? Now I know that the "Radiohead B-Sides" post was not all that much "fun", and to be honest, I haven't exactly been "bringing the fun" to Tuesday's On The Phone, in general. It is safe to say that my tilt towards the "dark-side" of the musical spectrum could probably be attributed to the fact that I tend to listen to music that fits my mood (i.e. I listen to sad music when I am depressed because it makes me feel me something to relate to). You have no idea how hard I am fighting the urge right now to go on a tangent about how counter-productive this behavior is, but I will forge ahead in the name of "good times". Anyhow, I have been listening to a lot of (emotionally) "heavy" music as of late, and its time to lighten things up. Ironically enough, it took a band named Black Kids to do this.

All I can think of when listening to the Black Kids' debut EP, Wizard of Ahhhs, is how much fun this four song gem really is. Hailing from Jacksonville, FL, Black Kids are in the business of making upbeat (intelligent) pop music in every sense of the genre. From the very start (all the way to the very end) of Wizard of Ahhhs, Black Kids have this effervescent air about them, that just makes me want to move (dance! dance! dance! dance!). Every track here is worthy of mention, as they could all be on the radio right now. "Hit the Heartbreaks", the EP's opener, swaggers along to a synthy guitar rock line that sounds familiar, but manages to maintain a completely fresh incarnation here. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You", Wizard's strongest track (an MVP amongst all-stars), continues the Black Kids' brand of coalesced guitar/keyboard rock, accented perfectly with the kind of fraternizing sing-alongs that appear on most of Wizard of Ahhhs' tracks. The EP's third song, "Hurricane Jane", is more synth, framed by a staccatoed guitar, and (yet another) spectacular chorus. "I've Underestimated My Charm (Again)", closes the EP with a blast from the past that starts out early 1960's rock and roll, and ends up sounding like it could have doubled as the theme to a show like Happy Days (I say this as a compliment).

In addition to its pop bliss, Wizard of Ahhhs is littered with spectacular tongue and cheek lyrics that remind me of Jens Lekman, and are already leading to Black Kids' main man, Reggie Youngblood, collecting the ever-so-popular Morrissey comparisons (something Lekman still gets pretty regularly as well). Whether it is the brash chorus of "Hit the Heartbreaks" ("What can I do, it's not me, it's you"), the self-deprecation of "Hurricane Jane" ("It's Friday night and I ain't got nobody, what's the use in making the bed"), or the backhanded passive aggression on "I'm Not Gonna Teach..." ("The second I do, I know I'm gonna be through, I'm not gonna teach him how to dance with you, you don't suspect a thing, I wish you'd get a clue"), Reggie Youngblood is spinning gold here. Amazingly enough, no matter what Youngblood and company are singing about, they maintain a certain level of playfulness, that keep the songs light, and avoid them from getting weighed down by their own sentiments.

With an introduction to the world as remarkable as this, it will be difficult for Black Kids to stand toe to toe with a hype machine that has already taken down their name and number. However, if Wizard of Ahhhs' versatility and incredible hooks are any indication, I am confident Black Kids won't have any trouble filling out an album with their brand of catchy pop rock, drenched in wit. I guess it was about time we learned how to have fun (again).

Listen and Download the Wizard of Ahhhs EP (for free) at the Black Kids MySpace Page:

- Jameson


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Top Five Radiohead B-Sides

While I will never fully commit to one band as being my end-all-be-all "favorite", I can, with all the confidence in my 5'6", 150 lb. frame, say that Radiohead is currently the best band in the world. No other (relevant) band in the world can tout the catalogue that these guys have. In the 14 years that this band has been making music, they have released six INCREDIBLE albums, and one OK album (Pablo Honey). The latter just so happened to be their first album, so that pretty much means that every album that Radiohead has released since 1995 has been spectacular.

With the new Radiohead album coming out this past week, I find myself in the middle of a Radiohead binge. It is crazy how when a band releases a really good album, not only will you beat the hell out of that, but you find yourself revisiting all of their old albums as well because you are reminded of just how much you love that particular band. This has been no different with the release of Radiohead's seventh LP, In Rainbows. One of the interesting aspects of Radiohead's most recent release is that it finds the band venturing away from their laptops and back to their guitars and drums, leaving us with a relatively "minimalist" rendering of Radiohead. This got me thinking. There are very few songs on any of Radiohead's "official releases" (their 7 LPs) that I would describe as "sparse" or "bare". However, there are quite a few (fantastic) Radiohead b-sides that fit this mold. Accordingly, I thought I would put together a list of my top five Radiohead b-sides. (For those unaware, b-sides are tracks that don't appear on a main album, but were recorded and released by the band in some alternative form - i.e. EP, single, etc. They got their name from the A-Side and B-Side of 7" single records that were released back in the day. Basically, record labels would release the radio single (the "hit") on the A-Side of the 7" vinyl, and then just another random track on the B-Side - traditionally a track that was recorded but didn't make the cut for the final LP.) Getting to the point, here are my top five Radiohead B-Sides (songs that Radiohead had released, but just not released on any of their seven LPs).

5. "How I Made My Millions" - No Surprises CD 1 (Single)
"How I Made My Millions" was recorded by Thom Yorke, by himself, in his home, on his personal four track. If the recording you have sounds like a demo, that is because it is. When Yorke took this solo recording into the studio to show his bandmates, they all agreed that it was perfect as it was (Radiohead members Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway said it "blew them away"). As such, the band did not touch Yorke's original recording, and released it (as is) on the No Surprises single (pretty rogue for a band known as being studio perfectionists). If you listen closely, you can hear Yorke's girlfriend moving about in the kitchen as Thom sings over a foreboding piano (Why do I get chills when I picture Thom Yorke's girlfriend putting away celery as he labors away in the next room on the piano?). As with many Radiohead songs, the meaning could be a number of things, but I think the ambiguity of this one makes it that much better.

4. "Fog (Again)" (Live) - Com Lag: 2+2=5 (EP)
This is actually the second countdown appearance this track has made on the blog (see: Another Thom Yorke solo piano track, "Fog" made its debut at a Radiohead concert in Israel. This has lead to much speculation that the song is about the impact that the Israel/Palestine conflict has had on all of the children living in Israel (and its surrounding areas). It is difficult to know if Yorke was truly trying to make that cultural statement by choosing to unveil the song in Israel (I would not put it past him, but I can also see him emphatically dismissing the claim). On a larger scale, "Fog" tells the story of an individual (or individuals) that has been altered forever by a significant event. Something everyone can relate to. Some of my favorite Yorke lyrics at the end of this song: "How did you go bad? Did you go bad? Some things will never wash away. Did you go bad?"

3. "Gagging Order" - Com Lag: 2+2=5 (EP)
Formerly known as "Move Along", "Gagging Order" is the story of a homeless man that died in the street, and no one even stopped to notice (I think the former title was more appropriate, but the latter title is more "Radiohead"). The song is nothing more than a finger-picked guitar and Thom Yorke (seeing a trend here?). Despite the fact that the song's subject matter is completely depressing, I find this to be one of Radiohead's most beautiful tracks, but I cannot explain why.

2. "Talk Show Host" (Nellee Hooper Remix) - Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack
True story here. During my freshman year of college, I went through a stage where I would download movies that I was too embarrassed to watch with other people, so I watched them on my computer with headphones on. One movie in particular that I remember doing this with was the new version of Romeo & Juliet (I also watched Meet Joe Black in a similar setting...). I remember watching a young Leonardo Dicaprio in Romeo & Juliet though, and thinking that the song that kept playing during all of the important scenes sounded really ominous. No surprise (pun intended), it was Radiohead. Sidenote: I have always thought that Radiohead's versatility would give them the ability to score an entire film, and that that movie would stand on its own just because the music would be so incredible. However, it would be a horrible move for any band to commit to something like that without having complete control over the movie, and that is exactly why this would never happen. Anyhow, "Talk Show Host" has a hollow, industrial feel that fits perfectly with Baz Luhrman's chaotic depiction of modern-day Verona. Additionally, the lyrics, while not written exclusively for the film (see: "Exit Music (For A Film)" for the Radiohead song specifically written for that version of Romeo & Juliet), seem to fit perfectly with the tragic story of star-crossed lovers: "I want to, I want to be someone else or i'll explode".

1. "True Love Waits" (Live) - I Might Be Wrong - Live Recordings
Now this song is almost the entire reason I wanted to make this post. Make no mistake, I love the other four songs on this list, but "True Love Waits" is hands down my favorite, non-LP Radiohead track. I could easily write a "Certain Songs" post based on this song (and i might). There are actually only three songs that have a higher "Play Count" in my itunes than "True Love Waits". Once again, this is a solo Thom Yorke track, and its just Thom strumming an acoustic guitar, singing his heart out. So much is made about the sonic walls that Radiohead has torn down over the years, but it all comes back to the songs, and "True Love Waits" is simply a well written song. Has anyone read the lyrics? You'll have to excuse me, but they're fucking fantastic. I mean, it's heartbreaking, and Yorke's delivery only accentuates this, but the desperation in "True Love Waits" captures the feeling of helplessly being in love more than any song that I can think of ("I'll drown my beliefs to have you be in peace"..."I'm not living, I'm just killing time"...are you kidding me!? This is a B-SIDE!?). I don't know, perhaps I am just too fanatical when it comes to Radiohead to even write about this band. I probably need to bring it back a couple notches. I'll be up in the attic trying to live off of lollipops and crisps if you need me.

- Jameson


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Chuck Klosterman on Led Zeppelin

I have been reading a lot of Chuck Klosterman lately. I love his writing because, while it may not be teaching me a lot, it provides me with the solace that there are other people out there over-analyzing life's (insignificant) minutiae as much (if not more) than myself. Plus, he pretty much relates every relationship/situation in his life to music, or music to every relationship/situation in his life...either way...he's right up my alley. I recently came across the following passage in his book, Killing Yourself To Live, in which he (tries to) deconstruct the young male's love for Led Zeppelin. I enjoyed it so much, that I thought I would post it here. It is perfect because, like most anything that is perfect, it is true.


"Whenever I find myself in an argument about the greatest rock bands of all time, I always place Zeppelin third, behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This sentiment is incredibly common; if we polled everyone in North America who likes rock music, those three bands would almost certainly be the consensus selections (and in that order). But Zeppelin is far and away the most popular rock band of all time, and they're popular in a way the Beatles and Stones cannot possibly compete with; this is because every straight man born after the year 1958 has at least one transitionary period in his life when he believes Led Zeppelin is the only good band that ever existed. And there is no other rock group that generates that experience.

A few years ago, I was an on-air guest for a morning radio show in Akron. I was on the air with the librarian from the Akron public library, and we were discussing either John Cheever or Guided by Voices, or possibly both. Talk radio in Akron is fucking crazy. While we were walking out of the studio, the librarian noticed the show's 19-year old producer; the producer had a blond mullet, his blank eyes were beyond bloodshot, and he was wearing ripped jeans and a black Swan Song T-Shirt with all the runes from the Zoso album. The librarian turned to me and said, 'You know, I went to high school with that guy.' This librarian was 42. But he was right. He did go to high school with that guy. Right now, there are boys in fourth grade who do not even realize that they will become 'that guy' as soon as they finish reading The Hobbit in eighth grade. There are people having unprotected sex at this very moment, and the fetus spawned from that union will become 'that guy' in two decades. Led Zeppelin is the most legitimately timeless musical entity of the past half century; they are the only group in the history of rock 'n' roll that every male rock fan seems to experience in exactly the same way.

You are probably wondering why that happens; I'm not sure, either. I've put a lot of thought into this subject (certainly more than any human should), but it never becomes totally clear; it only seems more and more true. For a time, I thought it was Robert Plant's overt misogyny fused with Jimmy Page's obsession with the occult, since that combination allows adolescent males to reconcile the alienation of unhinged teenage sexuality with their own inescapable geekiness. However, this theory strikes me as 'probably stupid.' It would be easy to argue that Zeppelin simply out-rocks all other bands, but that's not really true; AC/DC completely out-rocks Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC is mostly ridiculous. Whatever quality makes Led Zep so eternally archetypal must be 'intangible', but even that argument seems weak; here in Big Sky Country, I'm listening to 'Heartbreaker' at rib-crushing volume, and everything that's perfect about Led Zeppelin seems completely palpable. There is nothing intangible about the invisible nitroglycerin pouring out of the Tauntaun's woofers. Everything is real. And what that everything is - maybe- is this: Led Zeppelin sounds like who they are, but they also sound like who they are not. They sound like an English blues band. They sound like a warm-blooded brachiosaur. They sound like Hannibal's assault across the Alps. They sound sexy and sexist and sexless. They sound dark but stoned; they sound smart but dumb; they seem older than you, but just barely. Led Zeppelin sounds like the way a cool guy acts. Or - more specifically - Led Zeppelin sounds like a certain kind of cool guy; they sound like the kind of cool guy every man vaguely thinks he has the potential to be, if just a few things about the world were somehow different. And the experience this creates is unique to Led Zeppelin because its manifestation is entirely sonic: There is a point in your life when you hear songs like 'The Ocean' and 'Out on the Tiles' and 'Kashmir', and you suddenly find yourself feeling like these songs are actively making you into the person you want to be. It does not matter if you've heard those songs 100 times and felt nothing in the past, and it does not matter if you don't normally like rock 'n' roll and just happened to overhear it in somebody else's dorm room. We all still meet at the same vortex: For whatever the reason, there is a point in the male maturation process when the music of Led Zeppelin sounds like the perfect actualization of the perfectly cool you. You will hear the intro to 'When the Levee Breaks', and it will feel like your brain is stuffed inside the kick drum. You will hear the opening howl of 'Immigrant Song', and you will imagine standing on the bow of a Viking ship and screaming about Valhalla. But when these things happen, you don't think about Physical Graffiti or Houses of the Holy in those abstract, metaphysical terms; you simply think, 'Wow. I just realized something: This shit is perfect. In fact, this record is vastly superior to all other forms of music on the entire planet, so this is all I will ever listen to, all the time.' And you do for six days or six weeks or six years. This is your Zeppelin phase, and it has as much to do with your own personal psychology as it does with the way John Paul Jones played the organ on 'Trampled Under Foot.' It has to do with sociobiology, and with Aleister Crowley, and possibly with mastadons. And you will grow out of it, probably. But this is why Led Zeppelin is the most beloved rock band of all time, even though most people (including myself) think the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are better. Those two bands are appreciated in myriad ways for myriad reasons, and the criteria for doing so changes with every generation. But Led Zeppelin is only loved one way, and that will never evolve. They are the one thing all young men share, and we shall share it forever. Led Zeppelin is unkillable, even if John Bonham was not."

- Jameson


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