Following PSN-e's coverage late last year of efforts by Radiohead and The Charlatans to circumvent traditional methods of music delivery (read here), Nine Inch Nails and Coldplay have become the latest major name acts to unveil new material online with little or no advance warning, writes David Davies.
The final days of April saw Coldplay offer Violet Hill - the first single from the band's forthcoming album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends - as a free download from its website. More than two million people were reported to have taken up the offer during the one-week download period. The band, which has worked with Brian Eno on its latest material, has since offered another, non-album track as a free download.
Nine Inch Nails has gone one stage further by providing a free download of its entire new album, The Slip. The ten-track set has been made available in several formats, including MP3 and FLAC, with a conventional CD/vinyl release set to follow in July. The band has also made the album's multi-tracks available for reconstruction from the NIN fan remix site, remix.nin.com.
Elsewhere, the trend towards the distribution of new studio albums and compilations as giveaways with Sunday newspapers is also continuing, with Paul McCartney set to follow in the footsteps of Prince and Ray Davies by gifting his latest studio album, Memory Almost Full, with copies of the UK Mail on Sunday on May 18th. The development emerges in the wake of reports that day-to-day management of the label on which the album was originally released last year, Starbucks' imprint Hear Music - to which McCartney defected after more than 40 years with EMI - is to be handed over to partner organisation the Concord Music Group.
Intriguingly, the act widely credited with having kickstarted the latest phase of the online music revolution - Radiohead - has made it clear that it will not be repeating the 'name your own price' exercise that accompanied the launch of In Rainbows last autumn. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, band member Thom Yorke described the honesty box concept as a "one-off response to a particular situation".
While no specific figures regarding the income accrued from the initial online distribution of In Rainbows have emerged, the subsequent physical release of the album in late December yielded strong sales and number one chart placings on both sides of the Atlantic - despite suggestions by some commentators that the online experiment would inhibit the album's long-term commercial potential.
Meanwhile, there are suggestions that some major music labels could soon allow free legal downloads after ad-funded file-sharing service Qtrax confirmed an agreement with the world's largest record company, Universal, earlier this month. The announcement follows a deal by Peter Gabriel-backed online music service We7 in March to stream Sony BMG's catalogue of more than 250,000 tracks.