The Interesting Case of The Slip
May 19, 2009, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a Nine Inch Nails bender and listened to nothing but NIN for about 10 days straight (it was largely thanks to this trailer for Terminator: Salvation, which is one of the better movie trailers I’ve seen in quite some time). Invariably, I wound up returning to NIN’s 2008 album The Slip. And I got to thinking how brilliant it is.

It’s not brilliant in terms of the music – personally, I much prefer The Fragile. But it is brilliant in terms of how well it embraces digital music distribution.

For one, it is distributed for free online under a creative commons license, which means that not only can anyone interested get a copy at no cost, they can do whatever they want with it – copy it, redistribute, use it in a podcast, remix it, sample it, WHATEVER.*

One problem I think some content producers have with internet distribution is that once you release something in the ether of the interwebs, you pretty much give up all control over it. You can’t stop someone from messing around with it and you can never, ever delete it. For people who still think that their content belongs to them once it’s been released to an audience, this is scary. NIN obviously has no trouble with it, which is nice to see.

Another neat thing about The Slip is how well it incorporates visual media into the digital release. If you’re listening to it on an iPod Touch, for example, each song is displayed with its own cover art and if you tap to click over to the alternate screen, you get an alternate piece of artwork with the lyrics superimposed over-top.

I think this was the first time I’d seen an album that so cohesively incorporates visual elements into the album experience and does so with such a sharp eye to the way that the album will be experienced through hand-held digital players (if anyone has examples of others, I’m interested to hear about them).

To me, this album represents a moment analagous to when learners of new languages go from composing in their maternal language and translating to the acquired one to thinking and composing entirely in the new language.

Up to now (or, I guess, May 2008 when The Slip came out), the approach to media on the internet seemed to be to put stuff online, but to continue to try to apply and enforce the old rules of distribution (e.g., by controlling redistribution based on copyright). As the RIAA can probably tell you, that wasn’t a huge success. The Slip is an example of someone fully embracing new media – or, if you will, finally thinking in the new language of digital distribution.

It’s a pretty neat development and I hope it continues.

*As noted in this review


2 Comments so far
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Maybe so, and while I join your support of the expansion of music to become a new interactive medium, NIN can afford (both financially and in terms of their reputation) to release music this way. If the idea is to create new methods of expression, new artists will have a tough time building the financial foundation to freely create. Not to mention if everyone is taking everyone else’s music, new authors become immediately anonymous.

I like the idea of music adapting itself to the new medium. I’m just worried about the fact that only corporately-sponsored artists can make a good living from it. I want to see less Britney Spears, and she’ll NEVER adopt this method.

Comment by Ian Cromwell

[…] last posting on TheNew20 was (partly) about distributing music free over the internet with the expressed intent […]

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