CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

CMU Weekly – Friday 3 Jun 2011

By | Published on Friday 3 June 2011

Andy Malt

Back in the olden days it used to be easy to build excitement around a record release. First, you tell people that an album is coming their way in a few months time, then you get radio stations to play one or two singles, then you get journalists to tell them how great the whole album is, and bang, you’ve got a queue of people lined up down the street to the door of their local record shop on the day of release.

OK, that’s a very idealistic view of the past, but in these digital days of instant gratification and pre-release leaks, and with so many artists and albums vying for attention, it’s becoming increasingly important to find new ways to make your record stand out.

Of course, the traditional route can still work better than some might have you believe; Adele’s latest album is a case in point. But sometimes you want that extra push, you want to do something new that will get people talking about your album and, more importantly, spending money on it. Radiohead are the poster boys for this I suppose, even if the campaigns employed on their last two albums, while different, didn’t seem that ground-breaking or interesting to me. Trent Reznor has dabbled with alternative ways of releasing his music too of course, though his ventures are often most interesting because of his candid reports on how they went after the event.

But today, Kaiser Chiefs went and launched their album in a totally unique way that I think really is interesting, and on a number of levels. Without any prior announcement, the band released their third long player, ‘The Future Is Medieval’, via their website this morning. It features 20 tracks, but fans are only allowed to buy ten (at a time, anyway). Which ten and the order in which they appear on the record is completely up to the buyer, based on one minute previews of each track and a simple but very cool web interface. The only thing set in stone is that it costs £7.50.

But it doesn’t end there. Once you’ve created and bought your version of the album, you can embed it into a web page and sell it to others who can’t be bothered to go through the process of putting ten tracks in order. And for every download of your version of the album you sell, you get a quid. Sharing, one of the most important parts of being a music fan, is actually built into the release.

Oli Beale from Wieden+Kennedy, the agency that oversaw the project, told The Guardian: “It sounds relatively simple. But actually, none of us had any idea what a huge job this is. The mechanics of tracking the royalties of everyone who worked on the album and making sure everyone who sells on the album gets their pound – none of that has been done before”.

It’s easy to be cynical about new ways of releasing albums – earlier this week Carl Cox’s self-updating USB stick raised an eyebrow – but I actually think this one’s quite exciting. Sure, the novelty will quickly wear off if others copy the Chiefs, but for now it’s really rather cool. I just hope this online innovation doesn’t just turn out to be an elaborate publicity stunt for a conventional album release, like Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want ‘In Rainbows’ venture.

Surely the Chiefs wouldn’t release the whole 20 tracks as a double-album, because that would be very boring. But even if they were to do something like release a band-compiled ten tracker, well, that would ruin things too, stripping away, as it would, the fan engagement element that makes this whole thing so interesting. As chief Kaiser Ricky Wilson told The Guardian, by asking fans to pick their favourite sings “you’re trying to make every song a worthy candidate to be selected for the album”. If the band themselves start picking favourites, it detracts from that whole process. If that does happen, well, at that point I reserve the right to become cynical about this.

And if it’s cynicism you want, then look no further than this week’s CMU podcast, in which Chris and I discuss the conviction of Scottish grandmother Anne Muir for file-sharing, BT and TalkTalk’s plans to appeal the outcome of the Digital Economy Act judicial review, the many court cases connected to the death of Michael Jackson (or Jacko, if you wish), Lady Gaga’s blessing of Amazon’s sale of her new album for 99 cents and Courtney Love’s latest defamation trial in relation to things she said on Twitter, plus (for some reason) ‘Super Gran’.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

THE BULLETIN: Click here to read this week’s CMU Weekly bulletin

THE PODCAST: Click here to download this week’s podcast or stream below

Subscribe to the e-bulletin here | Subscribe to the podcast here | Subscribe in iTunes here