When the British rock band Radiohead announced that In Rainbows would be made available online directly to consumers at whatever price they wanted to pay, many said it signaled the end of the world's major music labels. As the CEO of one of them, I may surprise you by saying that in some ways, they were right. The traditional record-label business modelthe one based on controlling access and distributionis dead.
But Radiohead's innovation also indicated something more important: that new models are very much alive. Does this mean we view the future as a giant tip jar? Not exactlyand I suspect Radiohead doesn't either, particularly in light of the commercial success In Rainbows had after the "pay any price" offer ended.
In reality, the music industry is no longer defined by a single model but thousands of them. Consumers now access more music more conveniently than ever before. This empowerment has driven changes in the relationships between artists and music companies. As a result, artists today can establish relationships with labels that are best suited to their own music, commercial needs and artistic development. For example, while we had been Radiohead's longtime music publisher, we hadn't previously distributed the band's recorded music. But in the case of In Rainbows, we partnered with the band to create a unique digital-distribution venture to make the album available at online music stores.
If any band could extend its creativity and spirit to redefine an entire industry, it would be Radiohead. With a single bold experiment, it revealed a broad array of possibilities for experiencing and monetizing music in the future.
Bronfman is chairman and CEO of the Warner Music Group
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