Death Grips frontman Stefan Burnett
We've all been conditioned to believe that the record industry has been rapidly dying for the better part of a decade. Blame illegal downloading or Napster or pirates or terrorists, whatever you like. The guys in the suits were losing! The guys in the trenches, making art, were winning! It's an idyllic notion that we would like to buy but it's also a lie. A quick recap: Death Grips self-released Ex-Military in April of last year, they signed to Epic Records (a subsidiary of Sony) back in February and released their frantic and impressive major label debut, The Money Store in April of this year. OK, we're all caught up. This week the band gave away, for free, their newest album NO LOVE DEEP WEB *link will download .zip of complete album* via a series of tweets about their label, dick pictures (NSFW) and torrent sites. The band announced a few months ago, via their twitter account, that they would release the effort on October 1st. They delivered and their latest is good. It doesn't match up to their previous work, in my opinion, but this is neither a referendum on the album or the group. This is about the myth that somehow music pirating has significantly effected the balance of power in popular music. Most would point to the mind-numbing decline in record sales over the last few years as clear-cut evidence that the sky is falling down on top of the industry's heads but I'm not convinced. What the industry has done is adapted to the times and realized how to effectively manipulate online conversation. (While still, mind you, releasing the Rhiannas and Justin Biebers and every other pop act in the world) The money is no longer in record sales or giving fledgling, cutting-edge acts huge advances and studio time to bust out an album every 18 months. It's in allowing a band to operate under it's own umbrella, backing its tours and reaping the benefits of the hype machine that the internet and music blogs have created. Without trying to sound too cynical I pose the following question: Who's footing the bill for the 22-date tour that they announced 2 days after NO LOVE's release? A few years ago when Radiohead released In Rainbows on a "Pay What You Wish"-platform people said the exact same thing. "How will the industry survive? This is a GAME CHANGER." But here's something that most people missed or forgot: The album still got a proper, if somewhat more decidedly 'indie' physical release through TBD Records and XL Recordings. The band also went on a massive tour and sold a ton of merchandise (and plenty of $80 boxsets of the album). Bottom line: More balanced for the artist but still big money all around. But not every band on Earth is Radiohead. Not every band on Earth can play a show at virtually any venue and sell it out within a few weeks, if not hours. Radiohead is a rare bird that have navigated a massively unbalanced major label deal to see the light at the end of the tunnel and can live off of their name and reputation to essentially write their own rules. With the Death Grips situation we see, according to a recent article from Billboard Magazine, the hands-down most legally downloaded band of the year doing something "unconventional" and "revolutionary". We are led to believe that they are giving away a studio album, meant for their record label under contract, without the consent of said label. I'm no lawyer but I would say that's a massive breach of contract and is certainly worthy of a day in court if Sony wanted to pursue legal action. But why would they? Why would they not ride a HUGE wave of blog traffic and even some mainstream music news coverage to push a conversation about a band that they clearly support and have plenty to gain from financially? I don't believe this reflects negatively on Death Grips' motives for releasing the album or that the whole thing is a total media stunt but it is certainly beneficial for both parties involved. The band looks rebellious and gets to release music on their own terms with little to no supervision from the suits and the suits get advertising and buzz that they couldn't pay for if they wanted to. Regardless of hyperbole among the online community; the record industry isn't going anywhere. There is still a huge revenue stream to be plundered by any means necessary and it appears that the labels have gotten acclimated with the climate of viral marketing and internet hysteria. Who's losing here? Had NO LOVE been released via typical avenues (Best Buy, iTunes, etc.) what could Epic really have expected the return to be? The Money Store sold a paltry 3,200 copies in its first week so why not roll the dice on some unconventional "anti-marketing" methods to bring the act some interest the good, old-fashioned way? With a little drummed up controversy.