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Radiohead loves Web but sees shortcomings

Radiohead's bassist calls iTunes clunky and says he misses "curatorial influences" of a music label as the band prepares to release new songs.

Colin Greenwood, bassist for British rock band Radiohead, has opined on the state of digital music since the unprecedented Internet release in 2007 of the group's album, "In Rainbows."

Greenwood makes clear in a blog post that Radiohead members, famous for such hit songs as "Creep" and "Fake Plastic Trees," remain fans of the Web's ability to connect artists directly to audiences while cutting out traditional middlemen, such as music labels, radio stations, and journalists.

But Greenwood also argues that at this stage of development in digital music, technology hasn't effectively replaced some of the old ways of creating, distributing, or listening to music.

"I spend a lot of time using music production software," Greenwood wrote at Indexoncensorship.org, a British group that advocates freedom of expression. "But iTunes feels clunky. I wish it was as simple and elegant as Apple's hardware."

Later he wrote: "I understand that we have become our own broadcasters and distributors, but I miss the editorialisation of music, the curatorial influences of people like John Peel or a good record label. I liked being on a record label that had us on it, along with Blur, the Beastie Boys, and the Beatles. I'm unconvinced that the Internet has replaced the club or the concert hall as a forum for people to share ideas and passions about music."

Did he really say he missed working with a label or did he mean he missed some aspects? As for iTunes, a lot of people have complained lately about how the system is sometimes a resource hog. That's not new. But what digital music fans want to know is whether the band considers the pioneering digital release of "In Rainbows" a success?

"I'm unconvinced that the Internet has replaced the club or the concert hall as a forum for people to share ideas and passions about music."
-- Colin Greenwood

Next month will mark the three-year anniversary of "In Rainbows," an album that Radiohead first released as a digital download and offered it to fans for whatever price they wished to pay. Radiohead was widely applauded in the tech sector for testing the Web as a distribution tool and for trusting that fans would compensate them fairly.

Greenwood doesn't offer much insight about the money the band made from the pay-what-you-want offer or whether the group considers the digital release of "In Rainbows" to be successful. Greenwood did say that Radiohead is preparing to release a new group of songs and he, as Thom Yorke said two years ago, suggests that the band will try something different this time.

"We have yet to decide how to release our next record, but I hope these partial impressions will help give some idea of the conversations we've been having," Greenwood wrote.

Whatever they decide to do this time around, the "In Rainbows" release made Radiohead card-carrying innovators in my book. It would have been easy for the band to stick with the traditional means of music distribution. Instead, it risked its money and reputations by trying something new and highly experimental.

I didn't always think that. But ask yourself, in the three years since "In Rainbows," which major acts other than Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails have come close to taking similar risks?