The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 838: Radiohead, A History, Part 3
When you sign your first record deal, it’s usually for seven albums. Theoretically, this is to protect both the artist and the label.
First, it offers the artist a degree of security, giving them a few records to develop and mature. That way, if they don’t score big with the first album, they have a little longer to establish their career. Second, the label gives itself some runway to see if their investment in the act pays off. The label puts up all kinds of money into the artist up front and may need time for the artist to turn profitable.
But a record deal is also like a marriage. Sometimes things go well and everyone lives happily ever after. But then there are those unhappy times when one party wants out. A divorce is in order.
It was this second scenario in which Radiohead found itself at the beginning of 2005. They had fulfilled their end of the bargain in their deal with EMI Records: six studio albums, a live record, half a dozen EPs along with four video releases. And now they wanted out.
But what were their options? Let’s look:
(a) Attempt to negotiate a new deal with EMI, a contract that addressed every single one of their concerns. But EMI was in big trouble financially. It was the smallest and weakest fo the major labels. The Internet was killing the company and management didn’t seem to have a clue about how to right the ship.
(b) Sign with another major. A band of Radiohead’s stature would have no trouble finding another home. Then again, this was a period when it looked as if the entire recording industry was melting down, thanks to rampant piracy and the disruption brought about by the Internet. A contract with another major might be no better than signing with EMI.
Then there was option (c): Go it along and redefine what it meant to be an “independent artist.”
After thinking long and hard about the situation, Radiohead went with option (c).
Crazy idea. But then again…
Songs on this show (all by Radiohead)
Bangers + Mash
Jigsaw Falling into Place
Burn the Witch
True Love Waits
Eric Wilhite has created this playlist for us.
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