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How Radiohead Got it Right, and Your Band Can Too
By Draven Grey - 11/22/2011 - 06:35 PM EST

You've probably heard the account. In 2007, Radiohead released their new record “In Rainbows” (although with a lot of criticism) on a pay-what-you-like download basis. They did this utterly on the view “...we believe if your music is great, then people will pay for it.” The cd became an immediate success as it reached #1 on iTunes and sold around 30,000 copies in the first week alone. There then followed a large surge of concert sales and their cd ultimately sold over 3 million copies, including 100,000 deluxe edition box sets. Radiohead became an inspiration almost immediately to countless bands all over the world, who years later did the same pay-what-you-like system to market their own album, hopeful of the same success.

Musicians, regardless of where they were at in their music career, have followed this model and some have experienced incredible success and others incredible failure. This approach has also been heavily criticized for only working for bands that already have a established fan-base such as Radiohead, rejecting the countless stories of smaller artists having similar success. They may not have sold near as much as Radiohead, but selling thousands and sometimes tens of thousands is much more than most other relatively unknown musicians can state.

If you do exactly what they did, you're guaranteed success, right?
You're following the same thing, you should get the same results, correct?

You might instead follow a entirely different model, one done by a much less known artist, Adam Singer, who used his album entirely as a promotional tool through Creative Commons. In just a short time period he had over 5,000 downloads for his album, and it had also been shared countless times in addition to that. He gathered attention--tens of thousands of individuals checked out his website, remixes begin to appear in various places, he got requests to make music for videos on youtube and he was also spotlighted on quite a few music blogs & internet radio stations. All this for just putting up his album for free under Creative Commons. He didn’t have a fan-base and he didn’t market his music to anyone, but strangely enough he soon attracted more attention than the majority of artists ever do.

Let’s revisit Radiohead. They put out their 2011 cd the same way, and again the critics are coming down hard on them. Later, they put it on Vinyl, and once again got reproached by critics, even though "The King Of Limbs" quickly became the top Vinyl album of 2011 by an insanely large margin. null But are you?

And when they released a USB stick with their entire catalog for 160 USD...the fans went nuts! Are you noticing anything here?

So what system should you implement?

Creative Commons? Pay-what-you-like? And what about USB? Or Vinyl? There’s a simple choice, “none of the above.” Maybe we should not focus just on what they did, but at the mindset behind their actions. Both Radiohead and Adam Singer implemented a totally different models and both had high levels of success. These artists represent extreme examples in terms of fan base and implementation strategy, but they share a common mindset towards their music career Instead of asking "Which model should we follow?" ask, “What model will engage OUR fan-base in the best way?”

Apple didn’t seek the opinions of the experts and critics before they developed the iPad or a exclusively touchscreen phone; they also didn’t ask them what they thought about sizing down MP3 players to be smaller than the size of a deck of cards or about an all-in-one machine. Napster didn’t just imitate the existing models in the industry when they put out streaming music and digital downloads. Netflix also didn’t just follow the industry when they made their mark with mail-order DVD rentals. These businesses and these bands were highly successful despite everyone around them telling them they would fail miserably. Then awhile later, the same critics attempted to replicate their success, but completely missed the point.

Don't merely imitate what they did and hope for the same outcome You must instead model their mindset in order to have similar fuel for your own music career success.

Producing results for your next album release...

You have substantial understanding already, so let’s spell out specific actionable steps:

1) Define your ideal desired fan base. Go deep. Really deep. The more you know your perfect fan, the simpler it will be for you to prepare for what they think would be the coolest way to find, consume, and buy your album. Not just any fan, but that one ideal fan who goes mad over your music and purchase everything you ever put out. THIS fan should be your focus. Describe them so fully that you not only know their searching and purchasing tendencies, but also exactly what types of things they would go nuts over.

2) Keeping your ideal fan in mind, plan out a release model that makes it natural for them to discover, simple for them to consume, and easy for them to share.

3) Now, go and do it.

Yes, it’s that easy. Knowing their ideal fan so perfectly made it simple and natural for Radiohead to choose release models that their audience would go mad over. Adam Singer also had a fan base out there without him even knowing it. Singer's audience was exactly like him, so he hooked them with precisely what he would be wanting...awesome music that was easy to discover, download, share, and use. Radiohead, Adam Singer, Apple, Napster, Netflix all have a single trait in common: each of them constantly looked for processes to most effectively engage their specific audience in the face of the outcry of those who ultimately turned to copy them.

I'll end with this..."What album release model will engage YOUR fan base in the biggest manner?


About the Author: Draven Grey is an artist development specialist and accomplished professional musician who has been where you are. He coaches bands across the world in how to be as successful as their favorite bands. Sign up for more great tips about the music business and a free 6-Day Booster Pack now at

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