Radiohead are putting out their new album online. It sounds a bit like that patronising AA commercial where the mother tells her son she has bought her insurance (pause, wry smile,) online. ‘If the music is rubbish, nobody will download it,’ argues a disgruntled record label executive. They can only do this because they’re not attached to any major label. Nonsense. They can do it because they can. Hello, digital world.
How things have changed. The day John Peel died, I produced my first blog, dedicating the post to the great Liverpool supporter and music lover, and his disarmingly engaging ability to make simple and normal things interesting. It took me an hour to write and publish. I felt moved.
The next day, I’d forgotten the user name and password and hadn’t bookmarked it or anything. Somehow I think John Peel would have liked that. The page is still out there somewhere, amongst the millions of abandoned blogs on the internet, recording one more memory of Sunday nights in the late seventies listening with fascination and awe to everything he put out on air.
Largely because I never wrote down any of the bands’ names, my record collection, whilst eclectic, never reached the volumes of singles some of my friends collected. Instead, I was good at spotting a tune and appreciated everything in the instant of listening. And still do. Which is why I think i-tunes is so fabulous. Not only can I try and remember what I used to like, but also can experiment with new music, which is just as good as old music, with added video as well. Stuff the ‘digitise the record collection’ thing. There’s as much good music being made today as ever. Except for Johnny Cash.
Mind you, growing up in a musical household meant being clothed in an inevitable layer of sophistication about enjoying music. My mother was an opera singer and had a beautiful voice. At the time, I would have described it simply as loud, but now appreciate the one treasured recording in my possession. I’m not sure that I want to put it on YouTube, though, even though it is rather better than much of the guff up there.
Which brings me neatly back to Radiohead. The band suggests fans pay as much as they like for the download. This is brave and a genuine participation idea where the fan community dictates the commercial value of the brand, quite open and explicitly. There’s a restaurant in Hampstead that does something similar. It hasn’t gone out of business, but then the food is good. I hope it works for Radiohead.