On September 13, 2010, Britain’s Index on Censorship published Set Yourself Free, an essay written by Radiohead guitarist, Colin Greenwood. Regardless of one’s individual opinion of Radiohead’s music, the artists’ contributions, both theoretical and practical, to the potential of popular music’s present and future, cannot be overstated. The most obvious example of the latter, of course, is the release of their last proper full-length (CD, LP, album or your preferred proxy), In Rainbows. On October 10, 2007 Radiohead made In Rainbows available, initially in digital download format only, to the world. During that same year, having split from EMI, the label who released their first six full-lengths, the band successfully protected the unfinished work from significant leaks or other piracy. This, quite a feat in and of itself, combined with the complete absence of advance copies for radio stations, music publications and brick and mortar music retailers, would have certainly been news enough to the world of media culture and theory, if not for the mold-shattering sale price of “pay what you think it’s worth.”
While Radiohead were not the first group of artists to imagine a “download only” future in popular music, in could be argued that were, at the time, the highest profile act to ever take the idea past inception. Physical copies of In Rainbows were eventually issued but the initial release was available only as a download. However, it can be said confidently that the release’s “pay what you think it’s worth” price, an idea attributed by Greenwood to “a friend of our manager,” might be the more unique and revolutionary of these innovations. In some circles, it was imagined that Radiohead had perhaps found their model of choice. Though sales are hard to nail down for a release such as this one, and the band hasn’t released any data, it is said that Radiohead made around $10 million in initial sales (Wired). With sales like this — the band sold upwards of 25 million copies of their first six releases for EMI before the end of 2007 — why not continue with the In Rainbows model?
While Greenwood doesn’t give an answer in the Index essay, he states that the band has “started to think and talk about how” they will release these new recordings. The piece in its entirety can be found here. Again, regardless of how you feel about the band’s music, no other musical act has utilized the ever-expanding tools of new media to the extent that these artists have. For this reason alone, the release of Radiohead’s next full-length might be worth our attention.