Radiohead declares it's done with recording albums

The band is done with albums, but this may simply be another creative stroke of genius that helps the company sell more of its value elsewhere.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

Thom Yorke of Radiohead Serjao Carvalho

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has declared, in an interview with The Believer, that the band has no plans to record another full-length album, preferring instead to focus on singles. A one-off from a band that can afford to call the shots, or a sign of things to come in entertainment, not to mention software?

Yorke cites the creative burden of recording an album, but I have to think the decision is as much about marketing an album as it is recording it. As Yorke relates:

None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with "In Rainbows" because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can't possibly dive into that again. It'll kill us.

"In Rainbows" worked on two or three different levels. The first level is just sort of getting a point across that we wanted to get across about music being valuable. It also worked as a way of using the Internet to promote your record, without having to use iTunes or Google or whatever...and it also worked financially.

To make it work, however, Radiohead went to great lengths to market the album, far less than it had to invest in distributing its latest gem, "Harry Patch." Regardless, while some music arguably makes more creative sense as part of an album, many songs stand alone and better fit the way music is being defined, distributed, and monetized.

This is perhaps best exemplified by comments, cited in a Wall Street Journal story, from singers Robert Earl Keen and Perry Farrell in the wake of the Lollapalooza festival:

"The music business is upside down," said alt-country singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen. "You don't tour to support your record. You put out a record to support a tour."

"Do you see people going record shopping? No," said Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction. "Downloading free music. Yes. Going out for live music. Yes. I love recorded music, but the best bang for my buck is the night I go out."

If you can accomplish this with singles, rather than the burden of an album, why not go that route? This is particularly intriguing given the continued pace of piracy, as a new study finds, because it requires a band to invest less in album creation and more time in monetizing the music through concerts and other "services."

Ditto for software. Google has already showed one way to get beyond the "album mentality" by providing its code on a perpetual beta basis. There is no big, once-and-for-all unveiling of Google's software, but rather a steady release of updates.

Open source is the same. Customers subscribe to a series of improvements and services around the software, rather than buying into a big licensing event. The emphasis is on what comes after the initial adoption of the software, not a bunch of marketing and hype to get people to use the software in the first place. The software largely sells itself.

In music and in software, we're moving to a services-based economy that relies less on DRM (digital rights management) and more on service-based connections between consumer and creator. The two blend ever more frequently in this digital age through the collaborative interplay between producer and audience.

For my part, I hope that Radiohead will release new singles early and often, with an emphasis on getting them out quickly to test their appeal, then fine-tuning them over time. The same holds true for software. My only question is if at some point in the future we'll see Linus Torvalds and Thom Yorke jamming together on stage.

Now that would rock.

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