Trent Reznor: Case Study (Part 2)

Here is a more detailed take on that wonderful video.

Throughout his career, Trent Reznor has always openly discussed his frustration with various aspects of the music industry. The last record he released for a major label “Year Zero” seemed to really cap off everything he was saying.

Label attempts to shake every last penny from NIN supporters was when they crossed the line. Pricing Year Zero at $29usd in Australia, got the gears spinning.

“Shame on you, UMG… no wonder people steal music.”

In efforts to pay respect to the fans who had been supporting him forever, Reznor started the Year Zero Alternate Reality Game, based on the concept of the record. This basically gave the fans an opportunity to have closer interaction with the music and the band (the wiki is fascinating).

This was done entirely through an intermediary company, to keep the concept away from the label.

“I knew they wouldn’t understand what it is. I knew the minute I talked to someone at the record label about it, they would be looking at it in terms of ‘how can we tie this in with a mobile provider?'”

I find that statement particularly funny. Moments before I had read that quote (in 2007), my friend who works at one of the LARGEST of the remaining major labels was complaining because she was just handed the task of tying 5 records in with an [unnamed] mobile provider. Trent was spot on.

Reznor released a remixed version of Year Zero in Nov. 2007 as his final label obligation. This is where the fun started.

In his first experiment, Reznor took slam poet Saul Williams under his wing. He produced / released Saul’s 2007 record The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!. They ended up releasing the record in a Radiohead-esque pay-what-you-want method. The stats can be found here:

Reznor disappeared for a couple months, and emerged in March 2008 with an unexpected announcement stating a FREE record was to be released, that night. Naturally was locked down due to traffic, but when the dust cleared, one of the coolest record releases was unveiled… Ghosts I–IV.

It was a multi-tiered system, proving to be the evolution of the pay-what-you-want method.

  • Released for free on all of the large Bit-Torrent trackers (,, etc)
  • The first of the 4 cds could be downloaded for free.
  • All 4 cds could be downloaded (any quality) for $5
  • CD was $10
  • Deluxe Edition $75 package included the 2 cds, as well as a dvd with multitrack files (allowing you remix the songs), a HD BluRay audio disc, and a 48 page book with pictures from recording.
  • Ultra $300 edition included the deluxe edition, as well as 180gram LP collection, and screen prints.  (only 2500 made).

This experiment proved to truly fire on all cylinders, and offer a little something for everyone. The Ultra edition sold out that first week, bringing in a quick $750k.

When all was said and done, this distribution method proved to be a viable option for all things NIN, should Reznor have chosen to try it again… fortunately for us, he did not.

A mere 3 months after Ghosts, he leaked one of his own unreleased tracks to a rock radio dj. Little did we know that this was the first single off of his next record, The Slip. According to Reznor, the track listing and lyrics were finished on a Wednesday, the final mix and album sequencing on Thursday, the mastering on Friday, artwork on Saturday, and the album was released on Sunday, May 5.

What is the significance of him leaking a song? Generally, the process of recording (loosely) starts with a finished song sent out for Mastering. The Master comes back, and the artist and label will sit on it for a set amount of time in hopes to have a coordinated release and promo attack. This is yet another example of Reznor attempting to change the format in which things operate.

The tags on the leaked songs pointed to May 5th, 2008 as an important date. Many people logged into that day to find a message and a link.

“Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years – this one’s on me.”

He again leaked his own record. As pointed out in the video, this didn’t deter fans from ultimately buying the release, which peaked on the Billboard Top at #13.

Lastly, in 2008, Reznor leaked 400gb’s of HD footage and audio from his tour in support of The Slip.

Why would he do that?

Well, the previous label still had video rights for many of the old songs, so there would be no way for him to legally have a video format release without paying through the nose. Reznor had posted on his forum, complaining that someone had leaked all of the raw footage and audio from his most recent tour. Worst part was, if someone were so inclined, they’d be able to download the footage, and edit their very own DVD of the shows… and possibly even upload it to the internet.

Most fans got the hint, and were fast at work at Trent’s subtle request. The next thing you know, multiple websites (primarily were up and running, connecting an international editing crew assembling multiple variations of the footage. They were all uploaded to various bit torrent sites, in a multitude of formats (ipod, blu ray, etc), and were all free.

It’s this sort of outside thinking that has kept Reznor ahead of the curve in the modern music industry.

Next blog:  What effect has this had?

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2 Responses to “Trent Reznor: Case Study (Part 2)”

  1. Hey! So glad that you could use those stats. It’s always rewarding to have a pingback or two on your stuff.

    Hope you’re doing well.

  2. Greg says:

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    your site is terrific!

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