Contrary to what you may have been hearing lately, Trent Reznor still thinks there’s a big future in “do it yourself” efforts for musicians these days (and he expects to do it again at some point). And, no, he doesn’t think that bands need a label. Nor did he go back to a major label because they wrote some huge check. It appears that there have been a lot of bogus stories floating around in response to the news that Trent Reznor signed a “major label” deal with Columbia Records (part of Sony Music) for his new band, How To Destroy Angels.
Trent Reznor and his manager, Jim Guerinot, spoke to Techdirt asked if about hearing the full story, rather than the “latest scandal” version. First off, as expected, Reznor’s deal is not the same sort of record deal a nobody off the street would sign these days. Guerinot made that clear:
It’s a licensing arrangement. The deal that Trent is able to do at this stage of the game is different than what he would have been able to do at 19 years old coming into his first arrangement…. There are always different levels of accommodation and leverage that you’re able to do. For Trent, fortunately, at this stage of the game, he’s able to license it and continue to own his masters… and, really, that’s the most relevant thing about the deal.
Guerinot went on to talk about how the real crime of most major label deals (and even some indie deals) is that the artists never get their masters back. They knew that any deal Reznor made would include him retaining the masters:
The toughest thing is when an artist takes an advance, pays back the advance, and doesn’t own his masters. That’s always been — and I’ve argued this with my friends who run major labels — that is the single greatest difficulty and why so many artists don’t trust labels. At the end of the day, artists have paid 50% of every video that gets made — it’s recouped against an artist account. But they didn’t benefit from the YouTube deal. They didn’t benefit from the creation of Vevo, despite the fact that it’s their money that went to creating that.
This was not a “typical” deal. So why do this particular deal? A few key reasons — some of which (perhaps ironically) came about because of his previous success. Reznor pointed out that he has a huge fan base… for Nine Inch Nails. He was worried that those fans are the only ones who would pay attention — and that they’d not necessarily appreciate How to Destroy Angels or (worse!) think that it’s “just a side project with my wife.” He specifically worried that NIN fans would say “this isn’t what we want to hear,” and that would then limit their ability to reach a wider audience. However, he thinks that HTDA is amazing and deserves to reach an audience way beyond his existing fans. In the end, it came down to figuring out what the band’s goals were and they decided that they wanted to aim big, and try to reach as many fans as possible. And they weren’t convinced they could do that on their own. Reznor explains:
The main reason I do what I do is I want to do something that matters. I want to be able to create art that reaches the maximum amount of people on my terms…. That was a key component… That was why we wound up considering, and ultimately going with, a label, and not just a label, but a major label, for How to Destroy Angels. Because it came down to us — us being the band now — sitting around and identifying what our goals were. And the top priority wasn’t to make money. It was to try to reach the most amount of people, and try to reach the most amount of people effectively, that doesn’t feel like it’s coming completely from my backyard. Because I don’t want this project, ultimately, to just be dismissed as “side project” or… (*loud sigh*) “patronizing affair with Trent and his wife.” Sounds terrible, you know?
Continue reading the rest of the storyt on Techdirt