Trent Reznor, the genius behind Nine Inch Nails, once hoped that people would choose to pay for music if they knew the money was going directly to the artist.
That notion was shattered by an experience he had when he put his own money on the line on a record he made with New York rapper Saul Williams in 2007.
“I wanted to test out a simple scenario,” Reznor explained in an interview with Vulture. “It went something like this: To my database of people, we sent out a message saying, ‘Here’s a collaborative album I’ve worked on for X amount of time with Saul. Click on this box if you want the full album, not copy-protected, free. I know you can steal it anywhere you want anyway. All I want in return is your email address. Or, click on the box next to it: five dollars; it goes directly to Saul. You can have it for free or you can pay. I’m calling your bluff. Are you going to do the right thing?'”
Out of around 30,000 downloads, less than 20% did the “right thing.” Reznor thought that number would be higher, and said it “took the wind out of my sails as far as thinking of direct-to-customer as a sustainable business for a musician.” He covered the losses.
It wasn’t all bad, however. It gave Reznor insight into how the music industry, and the way people consume, was changing. Reznor, who was heavily involved in Beats Music, and then Apple Music after the $US3 billion acquisition, is convinced that the all-you-can-eat streaming model is the the way to go.
“You’re not making money from albums,” he said. “Instead they’re a vessel for making people aware of you. That’s what led me to thinking that a singular subscription service clearly is the only way this problem is going to be solved. If we can convert as many music fans as possible to the value of that, in a post-ownership world, it would be the best way to go.”
And in that world, Reznor said he favours EPs of full-length albums.
“From my impression of how people listen to music now, being a bit more bite-sized fits into people’s lifestyles better. You put an album out now and it’s reviewed, judged, and forgotten in a weekend. If you’re lucky,” he said.