Trent Reznor Abandons D.I.Y. And Returns To A Major Label

singer-songwriter and music producer Trent Reznor has been an independent
recording artist ever since he left Interscope Records in 2007. After founding
his own record label in 2008 and releasing music independently, the Academy
Award winning musician has reverted back to the majors for help in releasing
his latest project through Columbia Records
, pointing out that “complete
independent releasing has its great points, but also comes with shortcomings.”

Howtodestroyangelshtdapng-1348439380The former Nine Inch
Nails frontman's new group, How to Destroy Angels, is a collaborative project
with his wife Mariqueen Maandig and frequent collaborator Atticus Ross (whom he
helped score The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with). The
group’s second EP entitled “An Omen” is set to debut on November 13th
digitally and on vinyl containing six songs. The release will be followed up
with videos and live concert dates, as well as a full-length release due out next

Reznor wrote on
his Facebook that this release, as well as the group's "next series of
releases," would be made available in “partnership” with Columbia Records.

“Regarding our
decision to sign with Columbia, we’ve really spent a long time thinking about
things and it makes sense for a lot of reasons, including a chance to work with
our old friend Mark Williams,” Reznor wrote. “There’s a much more granular and
rambling answer I could give (and likely will in an interview someplace) but it
really comes down to us experimenting and trying new things to see what best
serves our needs. Complete independent releasing has its great points but also
comes with shortcomings.”

Reznor’s use of
the word "partnership" indicates that the group hasn’t signed a
complete 360 deal and is more likely involved in a 50/50 or a record-to-record
deal. The shortcomings that Reznor is referring to that come along with “complete
independence" may mean that Reznor is perhaps seeking commercial radio
play for his How to Destroy Angels project – something that major labels like
Columbia can certainly help in attaining. This makes sense for Reznor, for it
was terrestrial radio that attributed to NIN's commercial breakthrough and made
room for their incredibly high sales figures and worldwide tours.

Still though, this
partnership comes as a bit of a surprise considering how outspoken Reznor is in
his skepticism of major labels.

"I have
been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business
radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it
gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with
the audience as I see fit and appropriate," Reznor said after his
contractual obligation with Interscope ended back in 2007.

The musician has
also been one of the strongest voices advocating the D.I.Y. route for musicians
and has been seen to regularly share his advice for independents to distribute their
work. In fact, Reznor's name has been quite synonymous with "DIY"
over the years as a go-to example of an artist that has worked to build a fan
base over time and relies on close personal connections with fans to monetize
his art.

Ever since his
split with Interscope, Reznor has released and sold all of his recordings (even
The Social Network soundtrack) through
his own website and social networks – retaining all of his royalties. While he
will now be giving up a piece of the pie to Columbia, Reznor seems to find enough
value in what the major label “machine” will provide for his latest project to
justify the exchange. 

Hisham Dahud is a Senior Analyst for Hypebot.com. Additionally, he is the head of Business Development for Fame House and an independent musician. Follow him on Twitter: @HishamDahud

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  1. This is a very telling and dissapointing turn of events. Reznor has been one of the leaders of DIY approach from what I’ve followed and seeing him go back to the majors is a harsh jolt of reality. If someone of his caliber, experience, and connections can’t achieve radio airplay (or feels he needs to for that matter) what chance do DIY musicians have who have never signed to a label for finding success?
    Free album download at http://www.facebook.com/chancius

  2. Well, guess he found the best way to handle and promote a new band (new name), even if he’s on board. And well, he has nothing to do with indies, even if he somehow practiced DIY. He just has enough strengths to do whatever he wants (same with radiohead, palmers etc).
    Not a reference for me, new business models still have to be found… unless they still rely on Majors and top indie labels (Warp, Matador, 4ad etc)…

  3. Yeah, I too was sort disappointed when I heard this news. Not disappointed in Trent mind you, just that it felt like ‘Wow. Even with all this clout and money at this point he still had to go to a major label.’ It kind of makes me feel like ‘If he can’t do it, then how can I?’

  4. Reznor’s also in a position to sign a favorable deal at this point.
    He’s become a DIY posterboy even though few musicians have his history, his talent or his fanbase.
    I think it shows that holding on to absolutes and being ideologically driven is not the solution for artists. You have to evaluate the deal and the opportunity.
    We shouldn’t turn DIY into a cult or we’ll be highly disappointed when our gods fail us.

  5. You still gotta DIY. Even if you’re after a deal, they want to see you are viable as an artist and have an audience (whatever the genre.) Plus you now understand a helluva lot more about the music business – points, publishing, etc. This changes nothing, apart from the fact that you now see even clearer how hard, how long, and how determined you have to be to make a name as an artist. Not for the faint-hearted.

  6. This is more a commentary on how radio and publicity works than on the DIY ethic (sure radio IS corrupt and it was all basically one entity long before it all got bought up by Clear Channel, blah blah blah – let’s skip that discussion). Even if you have millions of dollars of your own money to potentially spend, the economics of a recording industry promotional machine, i.e. both the economies of scale and spreading risk across multiple investments, make it much more viable for a large organization specialized in music development and promotion to take on the function of penetrating the radio and related markets. Giving up 1/3 or 2/3 of your royalties only costs you a lot if you’re successful whereas paying out of pocket costs the same astronomical amount even if you fail to sell a single record.
    So this makes a lot of sense, and it’s probably what the surviving elements of the record industry are moving towards. And as others have mentioned, don’t kid yourself … Trent was never really an indie any more so than Radiohead.
    – Tungsten Carbide

  7. I don’t know – I never looked at Trent Reznor as the DIY poster boy. I believe he is the poster boy for new marketing techniques that better connect to his fans and promote his new music. I think this might be a good thing for Columbia and their artists.

  8. Reznor has been one of a handful of DIY artists whose names are tossed around when people try to illustrate how much better being a DIY artist is than being a signed artist. Now there is one less example on that short list.
    I think that for 99% of the musicians out there being DIY is the best (and often the only) option. However, since major labels and major indie labels still tend to generate far more publicity and promotion for their artists than DIY artists can get on their own, there can still be reasons to sign.
    If you want more exposure, signing is probably the way to go. If you want more control, DIY is better. It depends on your goals and your options. Like I said, relatively few artists get offered deals in the first place so it’s a non-issue for most of the music world.

  9. Not sure that means he’s abandoning DIY altogether. How To Destroy Angels is just one of his projects.

  10. One guaranteed way to fail at D.I.Y. marketing is to look for fans in the comments section of a music business blog that is flooded with other struggling artists.

  11. one great thing about signing with a major label – you get paid even if your record doesn’t sell and you’re not spending your own money on marketing and promotion, let alone the man hours to manage it all.
    seems like having people to pay for, and do all that stuff makes sense afterall…

  12. Trent Reznor was showing “you” what he wants “you” to do…one is to give your music away for “free”-why “he” would want “you” to lose money as he is also a D.I.Y. artist as no one makes a profit from “free” music, as he did nothing but give his tracks away?
    If he is a shill for a major corporation what better way to rid them of their competition but by having it destroy itself and beg for help from the supposed enemy. Thus him promoting and enforcing the process of giving away music at no cost to the listener while sinking the artists into a hole or downward spiral of loss in profits, shows how little he cares if “you” make money. He did nothing but lead people to a path of ego-driven control and loss.
    The onset of massive amounts of independent musicians/artists making their own profits means less business for a major corporation, cutting the slack by placing losses on the independents means an eventual resurgence in their businesses. I wouldn’t trust or listen to Reznor for a multitude of reasons one being he is a hypocrite and has been for years.

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