WORLD: Radiohead and The Charlatans have become the latest artists to circumvent traditional methods of music delivery by announcing the online launch of respective new albums. In Rainbows – Radiohead's first album for four years – is presently available only through a dedicated site that invites prospective listeners to pay the fee of their choice, while The Charlatans' as-yet untitled long-player is to be issued for free via the website of commercial radio network Xfm early next year, writes David Davies.
Having completed its contract with EMI after 2003's Hail to the Thief, Radiohead's future relationship with the conventional recording industry had long been the subject of speculation. Finally, and with little more than a week's advance notice, the ten-track In Rainbows was made available on October 10th through an eponymous website informing visitors that the price is "up to you". A _40 'discbox' version of the album – containing extra tracks, artwork and booklets – can be pre-ordered ahead of its release in December.
While Radiohead is expected to release a traditional offline version of the album in 2008, The Charlatans' severance with traditional methods of delivery appears to be more permanent. Beginning with the release yesterday of the single You Cross My Path, the band – now out of contract with record label Sanctuary – has joined forces with Xfm to deliver its latest music free to audiences through the UK radio network's website.
"Why would you volunteer to join the army for ten years unless you had no choice? Record companies are a kind of army – very regulated," commented band manager Alan McGee, himself no stranger to record industry seniority as the founder of both the Creation and Poptones labels. "We were really excited when Xfm got behind us and were as enthusiastic about the download as we are – they are the first people to embrace music for the people."
Evoking an industry now undergoing rapid change, McGee added: "The band will get paid more by more people coming to the gigs, buying merchandise, publishing and synch fees. I believe it's the future business model."
Elsewhere, there are signs that several major acts who have previously resisted the digitisation of their back catalogues are gradually being won over by the concept of online delivery. The news earlier this month that nine albums by George Harrison are now available to download means that solo material by all former Beatles can now be purchased digitally, while several parties (not least Harrison's widow, Olivia) have hinted that the band's recordings could be issued online in the near-future.
Led Zeppelin is also embracing the new. The group's entire back catalogue will be available to download from mid-November – shortly before its eagerly-anticipated reunion at the 02 Arena – while in a separate development, US mobile network Verizon Wireless has announced a deal to offer Zeppelin music as ring tones, alert tones and full-song downloads.
Distribution via shiny silver disc is also increasingly the subject of fresh interpretation. Following the free distribution of Prince's latest studio effort with UK paper The Mail on Sunday in July, former Kinks mainman Ray Davies gave away a ten-track version of his new album, Working Man's Café, with the most recent edition of The Sunday Times. A conventional retail edition with two extra tracks will be released next week.
With a newly label-free Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) also vowing to issue new music directly to his audience – and, according to Billboard.com, even going so far as to advocate file-sharing – the overwhelming impression is that traditional routes to market are now in an irreversible decline.