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Thom Yorke partners with BitTorrent on new solo album

By | Published on Monday 29 September 2014

Thom Yorke

Hey, all you self-elected gatekeepers, you’d better watch out. After a few days of pretty tedious teasing on Twitter and silly speculation that a new Radiohead album was about to come out, Thom Yorke announced his new solo album, ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’, on Friday. And rather than coming out via a label, the record is being release through… dun, dun, daaaaaah… BitTorrent.

Not bad BitTorrent, mind, as in all those bad BitTorrent-based file-sharing networks. No, the BitTorrent company. Which has long distanced itself from the piracy its technology aids, and which has been courting the music industry in recent years with various direct-to-fan tools, including its Bundle product.

In a statement, Yorke and his producer Nigel Godrich said: “As an experiment we are using a new version of BitTorrent to distribute a new Thom Yorke record. The new Torrent files have a pay gate to access a bundle of files. The files can be anything, but in this case is an ‘album’. It’s an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around”.

They continued: “If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work. Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves, bypassing the self elected gate-keepers. If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done”.

“Huh?” said other self-releasing artists, reading the news as they waited for their own new albums to upload to Bandcamp or direct-to-fan platform of choice.

Bandcamp though? Oh man, that’s so last week. Yorkie and Goddo continue: “The torrent mechanism does not require any server uploading or hosting costs or ‘cloud’ malarkey. It’s a self-contained embeddable shop front. The network not only carries the traffic, it also hosts the file. The file is in the network”.

So there you go. Selling stuff via BitTorrent is totally free for the creator. It’ll never cost you anything. Well, except the 10% cut of sales income that BitTorrent takes. And the cost of recording the album in the first place. And any other promotional cost – for example, Yorke elected to get his message out to the media/self-elected gatekeepers via one of the music industry’s most established PR companies. But – woo! – no hosting costs.

Still, a 10% cut is less than most other digital outlets for music will take – slightly less even than Bandcamp, and only a third of what iTunes would take. And this is the first time that the BitTorrent company has experimented with charging for download bundles, as it further attempts to distance itself from its reputation as a piracy enabler.

Speaking to Billboard, BitTorrent’s Chief Content Officer Matt Mason explained how it all came together: “The first person we talked to was Thom’s manager Brian Message and Chris Hufford. He and Brian introduced me to Nigel Godrich, and I had a really good conversation with him on Christmas Eve in 2013 in a studio in London, about understanding their philosophy a bit better. We [at BitTorrent] were inspired by [Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want album] ‘In Rainbows’, that was the spark behind Bundles. ‘How do we scale something like that?’ The more we talked to Nigel, the more we fleshed out the philosophy”.

On what BitTorrent can offer artists, he said: “The platform has been working for up-and-comers for over a year now. This represents our first gated, paid Bundle. We launched [Bundles either freely accessible or in exchange for an email address] with Kaskade in 2013, and we’ve had 120 million downloads to date … The thing that we can offer in terms of discovery is putting it in front of 170 million users a month. 40 million of those use BitTorrent every day. This is a very engaged audience”.

Talking up his company’s position further, he added: “It’s been a really weird year in the music industry. The majors seem like they’ve absolutely given up on the idea of selling people music. There’s no clear path for new artists. The biggest album of the year is the ‘Frozen’ soundtrack. The most innovative thing you’ve seen is Apple releasing a tool to remove an album. There’s nothing good happening out here. We think [artists] should be able to earn a fair wage from their work”.

You can buy ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ for £3.69 on the BitTorrent website here, or you can fork out for the ‘deluxe’ vinyl here. Don’t try to get it via any more convenient platform though. Convenience is the enemy of any true artist.