Now THIS is interesting. Thom Yorke is about to release a new solo album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, and he’ll be using BitTorrent as the distribution mechanism.
The launch announcement just came out this afternoon, co-signed by Yorke and musician/producer Nigel Godrich. The album is already available – check this post on Radiohead’s site – with the free download including an MP3 and video for the track A Brain In A Bottle.
Fans can then pay $6 (£3.68) to unlock all eight tracks, although there’s also a £30 deluxe vinyl edition being sold from the W.A.S.T.E. online store. Fans can pay for the download using a credit card or PayPal.
“As an experiment we are using a new version of BitTorrent to distribute a new Thom Yorke record. The new Torrent files have a pay gate to access a bundle of files.. The files can be anything, but in this case is an ‘album’,” it explains.
“It’s an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around … If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work. Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves. Bypassing the self elected gate-keepers.”
This, of course, refers to Yorke and Godrich’s high-profile criticism of Spotify and other digital music services in the past. Yorke expanded on the “gatekeepers” idea in his famous “last desperate fart of a dying corpse” interview with Mexican site Sopitas in October last year:
“I feel like as musicians we need to fight the Spotify thing,” he said. “And then all these fuckers get in the way, like Spotify suddenly trying to become the gatekeepers to the whole process. We don’t need you to do it. No artists needs you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so fuck off.”
(Watch that download count: it’ll be a fascinating guide to how popular this method of distribution (well, and this particular album) has been.)
BitTorrent has been working with artists to distribute their music, videos and other content using its “bundles” initiative since 2012, when Death Grips, Counting Crows and other artists tried it out, fuelling what BitTorrent claimed was 124m legal downloads over its filesharing network in 2012.
In May 2013, the initiative went ‘alpha’ and was used by the likes of Kaskade, Public Enemy, Pixies, De La Soul, Cassius and Moby – the latter’s bundle was downloaded 8.9m times in 2013, with BitTorrent saying this June that total bundle downloads and streams had reached 100m.
For most of its history, BitTorrent bundles have involved fans entering their email address to unlock any extra content. But this year, BitTorrent also introduced the pay gates feature that Yorke is using. It seems the technology struck a chord with Yorke and Godrich:
“If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done. The torrent mechanism does not require any server uploading or hosting costs or ‘cloud’ malarkey. It’s a self-contained embeddable shop front,” they said in today’s announcement.
“The network not only carries the traffic, it also hosts the file. The file is in the network. Oh yes and it’s called Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.”
One talking point: fans who want to download the bundle who don’t already have a torrent client on their PC or Mac will be promoted to download and install BitTorrent’s software. Encouraging fans to install software that can *also* be used for piracy will spark debate, we suspect – even though BitTorrent has been very clear in its desire to be seen as a neutral technology.
Yorke is having quite a year in terms of debuting new music in interesting ways: earlier this month, Radiohead released some new songs through their PolyFauna iOS and Android app.