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Is Reznor a digital-music visionary? Ask Lars Ulrich

Metallica's drummer and onetime Napster basher says he wants to pick Reznor's brain about the band maybe leaving its music label. Wait, doesn't he hate tech?

Sure, rocker Trent Reznor's example has encouraged plenty of music acts to reject the label system and search for a new industry paradigm using the Web.

Lars Ulrich suggests that Metallica may want to dump its label, and he wants Trent Reznor's help to do it. The Los Angeles Times

But did anyone expect that among Reznor's disciples would be Lars Ulrich?

Ulrich, a member of the rock band Metallica and once one of the leading critics of peer-to-peer sites, said during an interview last week with The Los Angeles Times that Metallica no longer needs the backing of a big record company and suggested that the group may be ready to go independent.

"The primary--not the only, but the primary--function of a record label is to act as a bank," Ulrich told the Times. "When you're fortunate enough to be successful and so on, you don't need to rely on record companies as the banks...We're doing a bunch of shows with Trent this summer in Europe. I look forward to sitting down and talking to him about what's on his radar."

Because of Reznor and efforts by Radiohead, which also dropped its label and has since used the Internet to market itself directly to fans, Ulrich told the Times "there's nothing but possibilities."

What's the significance here? To many music fans Ulrich became the hated symbol of anti-innovation, anti-technology, and heavy-handed copyright owners when he was among those who tried to sue Napster--and indeed file sharing--out of existence.

Now, a decade later, even he wants to sit at the feet of Reznor.

Reznor, leader of the band Nine Inch Nails, has won accolades from digital-music fans for attempting to make music more affordable for the public while helping artists earn a living. He's done this by rejecting the major-label system and distributing music via the Web directly to the public.

Ulrich's nod to Reznor is, at the very least, an acknowledgment that digital distribution is here to stay and that the best way to survive as a music act is to understand it.