Twisted City by Chris Singleton - album sleeve

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Entries in digital distribution (1)


The future of rock and roll

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to put out a physical cd in the UK and Ireland recently. Happily, it picked up good reviews, some national airplay and I got on the telly doing quirky gigs on London public transport. But the lack of a marketing budget, big-budget video, TV plugger, print advertising etc. meant that it was going to be very hard to compete with records from established acts. Whilst it's safe to say that the critical reaction to the album was very positive (this was much to my relief), with my resources -- and even with the PR help of a major in Ireland -- I simply couldn't reach enough listeners to sell the cd in big quantities. I hate admitting that, but there you go. I still fly on budget airlines, in other words.

Now that all the singles have been released from the album, I reckon I've sold as many copies of 'Twisted City' as I'm likely to, in the UK and Ireland at least. But I'd still like the distribution of the album to continue in some shape or form, and I'd like to keep introducing the music to new ears.

This is why I've embraced what may become known as "the Radiohead model" of distribution: offering a download of the album to listeners at no financial cost.

Commentators made much of the fact that Radiohead allowed people to pay as much or as little as they liked for the download of 'In Rainbows'; I think they missed the point. Radiohead were after email addresses as much as the donations. Think about it: as a result of their experiment, Radiohead probably now have the means to communicate, entirely free, with their ENTIRE fanbase. And sell future products, tours and merchandise to them direct (which is the most effective way of selling). There are companies who would absolutely kill to have their entire customer base on a database, and spend vast quantities of time and money trying to achieve this; in a matter of weeks, Radiohead compiled a massive mailing list and, incredibly, made money in the process of doing so (through the 'honesty box' aspect of the exercise). Very clever stuff.

With the advent of 'free album' distribution, I can't see paid-for music continuing for much longer. It's so ridiculously easy to copy and share music that paying for it seems arcane. Once somebody has an album, everybody has it. When an album is just a set of files, there becomes no effective difference between a paid-for set of files and a free set of files. I hate thinking of music in these terms, and I always pay for albums, but the reality of the situation is that most people are looking at music in this clinical way.

It means that the income which pays for new music (and salaries...) is going to have to come from other sources. I see two main ways in which artists and labels are going to make money in the future:

1) By selling band merchandise / gig tickets direct using the email addresses gathered during 'free album' releases. Only stuff which can't be 'copied' electronically will be worth selling.

2) By making albums available for free on sites on which paid-for adverts are displayed.

The second scenario worries me somewhat, as we may end up in a situation where, like commercial radio, advertisers dictate what is and isn't "acceptable" (this is why there is so much Celine Dion on the radio).

The bottom line is that musicians are going to have to get a lot smarter about how they get their music out there. In the future, it may be the case that instead of musicians fighting for the attention of majors, we'll fight to get the biggest database, or to get more of our 'free albums' out to people than the other guy. It's going to be as cut-throat as ever, regardless of the internet revolution. That's why I want to get in early with the whole free download experiments.

As for the free Radiohead album, with the exception of one song, 'Body Snatchers', I don't like it. I paid for The Bends and OK Computer; they were much better. Or maybe I just think that because I parted with cash?

You can download Chris Singleton's 'Twisted City' album free at