The Trent Reznor Case Study: NIN Is The Future Of The Music Business

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Techdirt’s Michael Masnick discusses why Nine Inch Nails is the future of the music business:

Since completing his earlier major record label contract, musician Trent Reznor has been experimenting with a variety of new and unique business models for Nine Inch Nails to reach and connect with fans.

This case study explores Reznor’s experiments, examining what has worked and what has not – and why.

If you can get beyond the cheesy consultant-style acronyms, there’s a good overview here of how NIN is using new media.


14 thoughts on “The Trent Reznor Case Study: NIN Is The Future Of The Music Business

  1. What usualy gets me going about reznor is that he probably has a team of people figuring some of this shit out for him, all the new media marketing stuff, and yet he kind of gets the credit as always. Also, indipendant artists have been doing this kind of thing for years, myself included, but since we don’t have a huge fanbase like reznor does, it doesn’t work. as someone said, Reznor doing this=trail blazing, and indipendant artist=nothing new. I find some of it interesting how much hype he gets, and than how much more publicity he gets because people are talkign about how much awesomesauce he has slathered over his body. But, I hope the industry takes him as an example, thats really all he is worth to me, hes not a trailblazer, or a pioneer, he’s just a guy with some industry cred who can change things.

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  2. Please wake me when someone does a case study of “The Future of Music” on someone who didn’t grandfather into the system. Currently it goes like this:

    Unknown artist releases music.
    No one cares.
    The end.

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  3. Matthew (stretta) –

    You’re right that this doesn’t translate into a formula that new artists can follow to make it big.

    NIN is demonstrating a model for established artists to make the most of the current state of the music industry.

    Realistically, the future of music for niche artists is probably the same as it’s always been – day jobs.

    Soulja Boy and OK Go are examples, though, of relatively indie artists that have used Internet media to make it big.

    Maybe it’s time to work up a wicked ambient glitch piano dance routine.

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  4. I wonder if the dinosaurs that learned to grow feathers were similarly touted as “the new way forward” to the other desperate lizards facing extinction. Notice, the presentation is from a guy who tells corporate dinosaurs how to catch the new juicy mammals for a living… it doesn’t quite translate to a new hunting strategy the mammals can use.

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  5. Hey there.

    I’m the guy who did the presentation, and I somewhat resent being called a consultant. I’m not. I don’t sell any consulting services at all. I don’t tell corporate dinosaurs anything for a living. The use of the acronyms was just a fun way to try to drive home the freaking message that the record label guys should stop worrying, and start learning to adapt.

    Separately, I disagree with those above who say that this can’t work for indie or new artists. The presentation that the Midem folks asked for was about Trent Reznor, but we’ve been chronicling new and indie artists doing much more interesting things since well before any of the big names came along. In fact, I often think the indie guys are doing things even more interesting than Reznor — which is why I said that at the end. But Midem wanted a presentation on Reznor, so that’s what they got.

    For a recent example, check out Corey Smith, but we’ve got a whole big list of others who have done similar stuff:

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090120/1942463468.shtml

    Then explain why this model can’t work for new artists. If you want others, I’ve got a long list…

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  6. Mike

    Thanks for your comments.

    I clarified the post to make it clearer that I was referring to the consultant-style acronyms, which strike me as a little cheesy. As I said in the post, though, the content is a good overview of what NIN are doing.

    Musicians are skeptical about how this applies to new and indie artists, but I agree with you that there are some that are using new media in clever ways. We’ve featured Little Boots previously for the way she’s using YouTube.

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  7. “working with a bunch of companies to help them understand new media, social media trends, and how to connect with the various communities that they deal with…”

    In what way is that not consulting?

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  8. Hi Al,

    That was shorthand just to get some of them to look at the site. We offer companies a platform where they can get feedback from their communities directly… A way to start a conversation and find out what the community thinks about it and to discuss it with them and to reward that community.

    So it’s not about selling ideas or anything. What we do is help bring the whole community into the process. I don’t think of that as consulting at all.

    Consulting is about hiring one guy (or a team) who thinks they’re smarter than everyone else. We’re about getting companies to actually listen to what their communities are telling them.

    Hope that explains it…

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  9. I should confess, there’s probably not much you can say that will penetrate my thick fog of bitterness and cynicism. If its any consolation, I’m in therapy.

    OK, I get that you’re not consulting (although it still sounds suspiciously like consulting to me… but consulting on corporate/consumer practices rather than marketing or such). It’s more about facilitating a communication channel between companies/organizations and their end users who would otherwise just be anonymous sales figures or something.

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  10. mike —

    for what it’s worth, i thought it was a very effective presentation, though i’m a bit out of the loop these days and didn’t follow all of the nuances ;) ..still, i believe the basic concept is sound — so much so that i just emailed it to an artist friend who’s a little younger/hipper than i..but as a die-hard sampler/collage artist from yesteryear — who never did it make money, btw..creation is its own reward — i especially appreciated the “big red circle with the diagonal line” over the word “copyright” at the end of the presentation!!! :))

    artist = someone who creates art

    marketer = someone who sells art (or anything — good, bad or indifferent)

    of course one can be both, and one can do well only at one or the other, as well as both..just don’t confuse the two!!! ;)

    remember — mozart once said he never wrote an original note in his life..he merely re-arranged the ones that were already there :)

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  11. I thought pioneers/trailblazers left behind the ‘old’ for the ‘new frontiers’ – isn’t that what Reznor’s doing?

    I’d would say it’s almost a certainty that he has a team working for him but I say “So what?”
    If Reznor could physically, personally do everything which is in the presentation, he must be superman and he’d deserve the awesomesauce coating!
    The biggest point here is that he has full artistic and distributive control of the direction of where NIN is going.
    This means he has to be able to get people to do whatever he hasn’t got the skills to do (a skill in itself) – really, would you expect him to do his own lighting or wire up the big screens at NIN’s concerts?

    That out of the way, for the model to work, as Ruin suggests, you already have to have the fan-base ‘ready-made’ for it to work.
    You’re also needing to feel secure enough to make that commitment.

    Therefore this model would be representative of what’s possible for signed artists to work independently (and I just realised that synthead already said that…) OR how record companies can survive and the model they’re struggling hard to protect because the fat-cat accountants and lawyers know that only the people with the REAL jobs in the industry (the engineers, the producers, and yes the creative marketing people who help ‘package’ the artist for the fans) will keep making money.
    And just maybe we’ll stop hearing formulaic ‘crap that sells’ because it’s accounting-based…

    For ‘the rest of us’, the entry into this model is done… how?
    The only thing I’m aware of is MySpace.
    However, MySpace usually sees artists approached by ‘labels’.
    I haven’t heard of anyone who’s been successful on MySpace, who’s then refused a label sign-up and gone on to be successful with the ‘Trent Reznor Model’.

    Just figure out how to jump from “MySpace” to “TrentSpace” and you’ll be on a winner and in complete control… ;)

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