U2 and Thom Yorke: the distribution debate has drowned out the music

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The music heavyweights made headlines for offering their albums as downloads - but is anyone actually listening?

by Myf Warhurst, The Guardian

It has been a big couple of weeks for music lovers. The trouble began with U2 turning up uninvited and gatecrashing the party in our private iTunes collections, gifting us their new album for free.

This little bit of electronic shazammery caused a terrific stir, and after much kerfuffle, iTunes backtracked and released a special program that would take the album away for those disgruntled by the dump. Think of it as a post-party iTunes carpet clean to get rid of any unwelcome stains and odour left by Bono and the lads.

Then, without notice, Radiohead's Thom Yorke dropped a solo album via BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service usually associated with illegal downloading. What Yorke's gone and done by offering his album for $6 on such a service is a little like selling a legal, official DVD at a market among the illegal movies for sale that are always shakily filmed on some bloke's camera phone. It's an interesting move and one that may help establish a new power player in the cut-throat world of music distribution.

Whether or not people will delve deep into the BitTorrent dungeon to purchase the entire album, still remains to be seen. But together, U2 and Yorke have done a cracking job of attracting the headlines and publicity required to promote their new records. They have been front and centre of the music news cycle.

Unfortunately, there's a downside to all this. The chatter around the albums is mostly about the mode of delivery, rather than the actual songs or the art. Who knew that whacky distribution methods would be the only way to make the front page?

What does that say about our times if promo departments think the most interesting thing about the music they're selling is the way we get our hands on it? Either the music is bad or we've all simply run out of ideas on how to sell this stuff. I'm hoping it's the latter.

Poor U2. If it weren't for their buckets of money and multiple houses, I'd almost feel sorry for them. Most people know they've got the new album because of the headlines, but I bet they haven't listened to it yet. There's simply no urgency. It's as if it's hanging around somewhere in our iTunes collections like an old lipstick at the bottom of a handbag.

With the sheer volume of digital content, it's easier for artists to get lost in the "maybe" pile, no matter what stunt they pull and even if they are one of the biggest bands in the world.

Gone are the days when records were treasured, shared and obsessed over because they were far rarer commodities. Back in 1985 if you received a free copy of anything, even if it was rubbish, it was like Christmas and birthdays all rolled into one.

I'm not saying those times were better (the breadth of choice and accessibility of music today is a magical thing), but strangely, there is one thing I miss: the roadside decorations of yore where the unwound tape reel from discarded cassettes would blow gently in the breeze like streamers as cars sped past on the highway. It was our very own musical ticker tape parade.

How's this for novelty: perhaps U2 should have released their new album on cassette tape instead.

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 3, 2014 4:12 PM.

Metallica's Lars Ulrich 'immensely inspired' by U2 iTunes giveaway was the previous entry in this blog.

The incredible shrinking band: What's going on with U2? is the next entry in this blog.

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