White-knuckle journey blackened my eye and cut my lip

I’ve blogged a few times about the band Marillion and the fact that — even though the world regards them as irrelevant dinosaurs! — they’ve long been at the cutting edge of the Internet so far as the music business is concerned. They realized years ago that they have a small but loyal and technologically savvy fanbase that could be rallied through the web, and have parlayed that reality into wriggling their way out of suffocating studio contracts in order to record the music they want to create, funded by thousands of fans who pay for their albums a year or more in advance. In return, the fans get deluxe limited edition releases and, more importantly, good albums created without A&R men breathing down their necks for a hit single. Whether or not you like it is beside the point; we (the fans) do, and it’s great that the band has been able to innovate and survive.

Anyway, they’ve gone the next mile for their upcoming album Happiness is the Road. In addition to doing the usual presale thing (including a fancy, alternate, two-disc version for us loyalists), they’ve also done something that eludes almost every other band in the world and recognized the existence of file-sharing. Rather than pretending that torrents of Happiness won’t appear online within minutes of its arrival in the hands of reviewers, they decided to beat the seeders to the punch and uploaded their own specially-prepared torrent of the album last week. Rather than scream and kick and curse and posture and threaten lawsuits, they’ve accepted reality and bowed to the scalawags of the Internet.

This made a lot of people very angry and has widely been regarded as a bad idea — but in fact, it was sort of brilliant. Their torrent isn’t top-quality, and it includes files encouraging listeners to buy a legit copy (Radiohead-style, for whatever you think it’s worth), and by pushing it out in advance of the album they ensure that their version will propagate across P2P networks as thoroughly as the eventual high-quality rips. A lot of fans feel slighted by the fact that the band appears to be giving special privileges to people who steal their work rather than support it in advance. I can understand their irritation, though; what baffles me are the people who are complaining that their first exposure to the music will be a low-quality rip…because apparently it’s difficult to refrain from downloading and listening to crappy versions of music, or something. Self-control, man, who wants to be bothered with that?

11 thoughts on “White-knuckle journey blackened my eye and cut my lip

  1. I can look at the numbers and “know” that a track with a bitrate of 320 is of higher fidelity than a cut at 128, but I’ll be darned if I’ve ever been able to hear the difference.

  2. Einstürzende Neubauten have been doing a similar thing since about 2002. Fans pay for an album about a year in advance and receive a limited edition pressing in exchange. Throughout the recording process, fans get to watch web-cam videos and receive special bonus track downloads (about a full album’s worth last time around). Neubauten have yet to release an album via bit torrent yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was done next time around…

    All this innovation, and freaking Metallica break the record for consecutive albums to debut at #1.

  3. Yeah, probably so. Marillion started the pre-pay thing in 2000, so if EN is following the same general arc they’ll arrive at the torrent stage soon. Also, Metallica can piss right off.

  4. Also, the difference between bitrates becomes more noticeable if you have good headphones. A 128K MP3 sounds sloshy and distorted, a 256K MP3/192K MP4 sounds great.

  5. It’s easier to hear “compression artifacts” in MP3s once you know what to listen for also. Cymbals and snares can sound very different in low-bitrate MP3s — basically, anything that makes a loud spread-frequency sort of impulse noise can sound noticably worse or at least different.

    I also wanted to add that Marillion’s WMAs and MP3s for this album are the best-sounding files I’ve ever heard at their respective bitrates, almost as if the band did special mastering for these compressed formats. And the music is fantastic too.

  6. I’ll be honest–I’ve never even heard of Marillion, but you’ve piqued my interest. Which album would you recommend as for a good first impression?

  7. Musicians have been releasing free, low-quality versions of their songs for decades. They called this thing “FM radio” and for a long time it was the best way to sample new music. The record companies in their infinite wisdom decided they could manipulate this system by offering generous gifts in exchange for airplay. The effect on radio was that it became homogenized, and as the number of listeners declined the radio station owners became panicked and over-cautious. Disk jockeys used to be able to share new music they discovered but now every song is picked for them from a very rigid selection of mathematically proven hits. I don’t see any downside to a release like this. Anyone who downloads the album and doesn’t like it wouldn’t have paid for it anyway. I must confess I know nothing about Marillion, but I will soon.

  8. Personally, I find Marbles (2004) to be the band’s best work to date. That being said, you can totally justify downloading their new album, although I can’t vouch for its quality as I’m waiting for the official release.

  9. Anyone here remember that emo band Thursday? I was at a show (to see a different band) a long time ago when they were first starting out, and distinctly remember their singer yelling into the mike, “Buy our CDs! And if you don’t have the money, pirate it on the internet! We just appreciate it when people listen to our stuff!”

    Less than a year later, they signed to a major label, and boy were they whistlin’ a different tune.

    Anyway, I’m curious as to whether Marillion’s model would work for most bands. If you don’t have a tech-friendly fanbase, or if you’re a new band starting out, it would be hard to pull off.

  10. One of my college friends was a huge Thursday fan, and would go to see them in VFWs and the ilk, for like five bucks. Last time I went to my local music store I saw one of their CDs retailing for more than twenty dollars. Must have been a double album or something.

    On a more positive note, I’ll definitely check out the new Marillion album. Thanks for the heads up Parish.

  11. The very same thing was done recently by another band, which I think got a little more attention… That being Nine Inch Nails, with their “Ghosts I” album, which also included a file, encouraging you to buy the real deal for “Ghosts I – IV”, and blabbing about their want for the internet and file sharing to be utilized rather than fought. Sounds like an identical case.

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