Nine Inch Nails: the first open-source band?

Trent Reznor has been no stranger to the ways of Creative Commons and digital distribution.

Throughout his 20+ year career as the man behind industrial-rock act Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor has been no stranger to the ways of Creative Commons and digital distribution. In fact, he's let fans tinker with his musical creations as far back as the 1999 release of his two-disc album, "The Fragile," two years before the sharing and remixing licensing arrangements of the non-profit organization Creative Commons even existed.

In an era when record labels fight the underground, unpaid spread of music tooth-and-nail, and companies like Apple take six years to strip the Digital Rights Management out of their massive online song stores, Reznor seems to have found a fire in non-traditional distribution arrangements. He's used alternate reality games and secret scavenger hunts to promote new works, and released full CDs under a "pay for it if you feel like it" arrangement. In addition to PDFs of artwork and liner notes, the new albums come with full Creative Commons license arrangements that allow fans to modify, share, and remix the work at their leisure.

One would think Reznor has fallen into a Downward Spiral of economics, but the facts don't lie: his release of the four-part instrumental album Ghosts I-IV netted the singer/songwriter/geek more than US$750,000 in the first three days of its release--even given the fact that fans could legally grab the music for absolutely no cost. In turn, said album became the bestselling MP3 album of 2008 at Amazon.com. And fans have responded to the licensing arrangements in kind, launching full communities of their own for collecting, promoting, and releasing remixed Nine Inch Nails tracks. (For more information on how Reznor accomplished this feat, check out this Creative Commons blog post)

But it doesn't just stop with the music. After hearing that Reznor wasn't able to proceed forward with a Blu-Ray and DVD collection of his most recent "Lights in the Sky" tour, the fan community organized an underground filming and DVD production effort to complete the project themselves. Once Reznor got wind of the effort, he relaxed security for the remaining shows of the tour, allowing more than 25 fans to film concerts from all sorts of angles and styles, standard-definition and high-definition alike.

Reznor might be taking a page out of Steve Jobs' playbook, for it seems there's always just "one more thing" on the horizon. In a first for a band of this size in the music industry, Reznor Wednesday released more than 400GB of high-definition concert footage from three shows on the "Lights in the Sky" tour, seeding these massive video files and pre-organized Final Cut Pro sequences across BitTorrent. Links to the three shows can be found below:

Victoria

Portland

Sacramento

For a band that's released over eight major CDs, four remix albums, and three video tour documentaries, the new push toward digital distribution and altruism is quite a departure from the normal album release and promotional efforts of the recording industry. While such efforts might very well only work for a band with Nine Inch Nails' cult-like following, it's an encouraging note for what could very well be the bare beginnings of a new open-source musical movement.

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David Murphy

PC World (US online)
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