Today, when Miley Cyrus or Wilco announce they have a new album available for free download on their websites, we aren’t surprised. That one morning when everyone woke up to a new U2 album in their library might’ve been a bit of a shocker, but that was more due to the automatic download rather than the concept of a free album. But this trend, which seems ubiquitous now, only brings to mind Radiohead and their release of In Rainbows in October 2007. While it wasn’t released until the 10th, on this day of that year their website crashed when the band announced the preorder — and the choose-your-price model to match.
Radiohead was really the first major band to release an album with the pay-what-you-want model — where fans could even get the album for free — and it’s clearly changed the way the music industry operates today. No longer are artists relying on their album sales, as digital streaming has largely usurped the purpose of buying entire albums. Instead, more and more artists are experimenting with dropping albums free of charge, citing the music’s importance over the desire for money (and literally and figuratively banking on touring revenue instead). It worked for Radiohead first, and now it is working mutually for the rest of the music industry and the listeners. Not to mention the fact that giving fans the choice of what price to pay actually made In Rainbows Radiohead’s most successful digital release to date.
However, the album is known for more than just altering the way musicians make money. It was critically hailed by many as one of the best albums of the year; Rolling Stone magazine even ranked the album as one of the best of all time in a list of 500. It took home two Grammys that year, including the award for Best Alternative Music Album. “All I Need” and “Bodysnatchers” will always come to mind when thinking about this album, as well as the seamless cohesion of the record overall. Its excellence shines through in every minute — and it has the accolades to show for it. But this album will always be remembered for the way it revolutionized album sales; it fundamentally changed what was the crux of the music industry, and nobody has looked back since.
From In Rainbows, here is “15 Step”: