Radiohead is considered one of the most successful, innovative, and influential artists of our time. Previously functioning under the traditional record contract, from 1992 to 2003 Radiohead was signed to Parlophone/Capitol Records. They achieved incredible success in the old business model, but with the release of their seventh LP, "In Rainbows", Radiohead showed the world they were going to take a more modern approach.
On October 1st 2007, Johnny Greenwood posted a message on Radiohead's official site announcing "the new album is finished, and it's coming out in 10 days... We've called it In Rainbows". This was a huge surprise to fans; usually an album release date is set months in advance. When October 10th rolled around, there was another big shock. Radiohead had set up their own internet server to allow fans to download the album directly from the band, for whatever price they wanted to pay.
When a band as big as Radiohead ditches a traditional record label and personally distributes their music (for free), it is clear that the industry is changing. While they eventually released the album on CD through both ATO and XL/TBD Records (Thom Yorke justified this action by pointing out not everyone is internet-savvy), the online release of "In Rainbows" showed the world that internet distribution is the new standard, and a traditional record label is becoming less and less necessary.
Radiohead's online presence is quite substantial, but they are not taking the same route as most current artists. Only in the last few years did they establish an official MySpace page and start selling their music on iTunes. Radiohead is not on Twitter, and they update their official site with mini blogs, pictures, or thoughts only a few times a month. The bulk of online activity keeping Radiohead fans up to date is found on fan-managed sites and forums, the two most prominent being Mortigi Tempo (through www.greenplastic.com) and At Ease. I am an active member of both, and get most of my Radiohead information through these sites. It was on Mortigi Tempo that I found a link to a statement by guitarist Ed O'Brien, announcing that the band plans to go back into the studio and tour this summer. These sites are great because they allow fans to discuss songs, gigs, albums, instrumentation, or anything else concerning the band. They are also very reliable places to find updates on the band's activity when the official site doesn't have anything new.
Along with the fan-managed forums, Radiohead set up a social network sharing the same name as their merchandise company "W.A.S.T.E.". It allows users to create their own profile, post pictures, videos, blogs, etc. This site, like any other social network, allows you to add friends, send messages and share information freely. The band themselves rarely ever update their own profiles, but Thom Yorke has shared interesting things through his profile, including some unreleased remixes which can be streamed directly from the page, as well as his thoughts on the global energy crisis.
It is difficult for a band as established as Radiohead to connect with fans on a personal level. While up-and-coming bands can manage their own MySpace pages and respond to emails, this would be impossible for a band like Radiohead. However, they have the resources to do live webcasts from their studio in England, and have done several since the release of "In Rainbows". On November 9th, 2007 they made a live webcast on www.radiohead.tv called "Thumbs Down". On the webcast, the band performed many songs live, including material from "In Rainbows" and covers. They also took turns DJ-ing some of their favorite songs. This webcast was quickly made available as a free podcast on iTunes.
Many up-and-coming artists are using the internet as an excellent tool to strengthen and expand their fanbase. While Radiohead is not utilizing all the same tools as other bands, such as Twitter, they are certainly not ignoring the power of the internet. They have the means to distribute music directly and make live webcasts at their leisure, and their dedicated fans take care of the rest.
This case study was written by Steve Bone, a 4th-semester dual major in Music Production & Engineering and Drum Set Performance at Berklee College of Music. You can connect with Steve through his MySpace or via email: stevebone7 [AT] gmail.com