Saul Williams Agrees That It's Way Too Early To Be Disheartened

from the it's-an-emo-thing dept

Earlier this month, we wrote about Trent Reznor’s disappointment in how his “free download” experiment with Saul Williams had progressed. He wasn’t completely disappointed. He was quite happy about how much attention the album had received, but he had hoped that more people would choose to pay for the higher quality downloads. He did an interview with News.com yesterday that got some attention for a throw away line about having ISPs pay a $5/month “music tax” to let people download, but most of the interview reiterated the points he made in his original blog post: he’s excited about the attention Williams was getting and how many people were listening to the music, but in the back of his mind he had hoped more people would pay.

What’s much more interesting, however, is that News.com has now interviewed Saul Williams, and he appears to be much more pleased with the results, and seems to agree with our view that it’s way too early to be disappointed:

“I’m actually extremely optimistic. The only thing that I really have kept in mind is that, one, we’re two months into a project…. I think it’s early in the game. I’m not disappointed at all.”

He also notes that, since the music business is all about touring these days, anyway, the direct money from sales is less important:

“the lifespan from my last album, from touring, which is really how I made my income and everything, lasted for two years.”

As for Reznor’s disheartened response, Williams chalks it up to two factors. First, it’s just Reznor’s nature:

“I don’t think Trent is as truly disappointed as he sounds in that blog. You got to think of him this way…listen to his music (he laughs). In my opinion, oh, he might not like this, but I think he’s the king of emo.”

Secondly, given the amount of time he’s spent in the traditional recording industry, it’s hardwired into his brain:

“I think Trent’s disappointment probably stems from being in the music business for over 20 years and remembering a time that was very different, when sales reflected something different, when there was no such thing as downloads…. Trent comes from that world. So I think his disappointed stems from being heavily invested in the past. For modern times, for modern numbers we’re looking great, especially for being just two months into a project.”

It’s nice to see Williams recognize that this is a long-term experiment and the early results are more encouraging than disheartening.

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Comments on “Saul Williams Agrees That It's Way Too Early To Be Disheartened”

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20 Comments
TacoJim says:

Saul Williams/Trent Reznor

1. Sound quality. Most MP3 players come with crap-ass earbuds. Can you truly enjoy 320kbps or FLAC loss-less with crappy earbuds. Those who paid were prolly the audiophiles.
2. Free. Kids these days are used to a culture of free (of sorts) It’s free on the radio, it should be free on the internet, it’s free on thier dang myspace pages.
3. Saul Williams. Who?!?!
4. Trent Reznor. Use your material and we’ll truly see a revolution in the internet as a distribution channel.

Enough said. Free = Good, Lossless out of crap-ass earbuds = you get what you pay for?!

Pope Ratzo (user link) says:

Re: who?

If you don’t know Saul Williams, then you don’t know the cutting edge of popular music in 2008.

Williams is one of the most happening artists to come along this decade. His album made quite a few ten-best lists this year, including mine, and I’m not even a fan of his style of music.

If you haven’t heard his record, you ought to go find it right now. It’s 5 bucks, direct to the artist, which is about what you pay for a double soy latte, you sissy. So work that google and download Saul Williams’ latest and prepare to be moved.

schwim (user link) says:

Re: Re: who?

I bought the album without hearing him prior. I guess I’m not hip enough, as I dug it not at all.

I’m really glad that he’s on top 10 lists and is the definition of cutting edge music.

I’m also really glad that I don’t form my opinion of music around top 10 lists, as I’d hate to have to listen to that album again just because he made your list.

I was however moved to delete the album.

thanks,
json

Mark Evans (user link) says:

Saul Williams

A couple points:

1. You can make a pretty could argument that pay-if-you-want experiments are hard to assess when you have an artist that few people know. It would be far more interesting to see how the Foo Fighters would do using this approach.

2. Williams’ comment about making from touring is the new reality. That’s where artists are going to make the bulk of their money – not by selling music online.

PaulT (profile) says:

Ignorant comments as ever...

Wow, there’s so much wrong with the comments above mine… Here’s 2 answers for you:

1. “No one knows who the fuck Saul Williams is. Thats the problem.”

No shit, Sherlock. That’s why Reznor’s name has been pushed on this project as much as Williams’ – to get promotion and free advertising for the album and artist. The only other way to do this would be to spend huge amounts of money on advertising, yet this album has sold thousands of copies despite (by Trent’s own admission) having ZERO advertising budget.

2. “Those who paid were prolly the audiophiles.”

Nope. I bought the album and would have been happy with the 192Kbps version (although I did download the 320Kbps MP3). I did the following: downloaded the album for free, listened to it, decided it was worth $5, paid and downloaded the higher quality version.

The fact is that Williams is a relatively unknown artist whose music is resolutely uncommercial in the traditional sense. There’s very few of the songs on the album that I could imagine playing on heavy mainstream rotation. Reznor’s production is distinctive but would be divisive among hip-hop fans. The same can be said about Williams’ vocal style, which would do little to attract rock fans who usually dislike rap, and vice-versa.

Despite this, many new albums have been sold and many of those people will be new listeners. The apparently low percentage of people who bought the album after downloading for free really means very little. Sure, some of those might be freeloaders but many others would simply not have liked the album enough to pay. Others may have downloaded the album but not listened to it yet (but may pay if they listen and like it). Others will have downloaded the album and will pay, but haven’t gotten round to it yet. Still others will be saving their cash for live shows and t-shirts.

This tactic IS working and will continue to work as long as the “traditional” mindset is ignored. Put it this way – do you think that when a supermarket gives away free samples of food to shoppers, they bemoan the numbers of people who try the samples but don’t buy? Not really. They look at what they sold compared to what they gave away for free and reuse the tactic if they sold more of the product than normal. Reznor should take a step back, remember that this is a new experiment and therefore not subject to established rules. He should compare the numbers sold with the numbers of Williams’ last album’s sales figures in the same period and take into account the lack of a marketing budget this time round. He’ll probably find he’s doing OK.

ATA says:

The problem with the William's record.

I found the Niggy Tardust album to be a really well-done production piece highlighting a different side to Williams. The problem with trying to market this kind of album however is that the VAST majority of people just aren’t going to understand the message of the album. They aren’t going to get that the album is a piece of ironic commentary, that the use of the n-word is supposed to be “forced” to show how its use in popular culture is hollow and ultimately drags down Black America.

Only someone who understands the irony of films like Bamboozled and tv shows like The Boondocks will fully appreciate what Williams is trying to do with THIS album. I would recommend checking out his earlier albums if you want a taste of his more straight-up work. He’s a very profound lyricist. The message of this album I think is just too subtle for most of America. Either they think it’s weak because the sounds, words, and imagery used aren’t “hood” enough for them, or they will think that the couture is being used without irony. This album wasn’t designed for middle America, it was designed for those kids in the inner cities. The ones that think it’s cool to grow up to be dealers, hustlers, pimps, and stick-up men. The ones who typically won’t listen to William’s more direct work. It’s wrapped up in the aura of thuggery with his tongue fully in cheek to mock the negative aspects of Black American culture. Of course the way in which it was marketed towards the wrong demographic is part of the reason why the message won’t be understood by most who listen to it.

One true weak point: Sunday Bloody Sunday. That was a mistake for Williams to cover. Didn’t really fit the mood of the rest of the album.

ATA

Tamara says:

Trent Reznor Disheartened

Maybe it’s early to judge the whole experiment. But it’s never too early to be disappointed in the credit you give to people to be honest.
Straight up, If I was doing Saul’s taxes I would want to be paid. So if Saul records an album and I download it I should be expected to pay for it. Especially because I knew some executive at a record co. wouldn’t be getting the bulk of the charge.
And that is what I think Mr. Reznor was disheartened about. The unwillingness of EVERYONE to be a honest consumer.

Jason says:

I have bought this album twice, so far; the 320Kbps (for my ipod) and the FLAC version to play on my home stereo.

Btw, why subject your ears to the crappy earbuds that come with the ipod, bite the bullet and spend some money on a good pair of headphones, I use and recommend Sennheiser HD-555.

100,000 people have downloaded the free version of the album. For and “underground” artist like Saul Williams, that is quite the exposure. The bread and butter of artists is definately touring and having that many more potential ticket buyers is definately a good thing.

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