Trent Reznor Dismisses DIY, Ridicules Musicians Shaking Their Cups For Scraps

Ps-fuck-you-lifehousedesign-flickrIn a fairly revealing interview with Spin, Trent Reznor reminds us of why it's often dangerous to turn musicians into ideological symbols. Reznor has had a strong association with DIY music but recently chose to take his work to Columbia Records. In opening up about his choices he ridicules current DIY approaches and reminds us that he's on a serious fantasy trip about Beats Music.

It's interesting to read this post by Trent Reznor from 2009 on getting known in music when you're an unknown. You can tell he's totally immersed in web-enabled DIY business for musicians. It's not just an opinion piece.

He also raised questions about social media that revealed how hands on he was:

"The reason no record label knows how to market anything to new media is they don't live there. They don't get it because they don't use it. What you've seen happen with the marketing and presentation of NIN over the last years is a direct result of living next to you, listening to you, consuming with you and interacting with you. Directly."

"There's no handlers or PR people here, it's me and my guys – that's it. There's no real plan, even – it's just trying to do the right thing that respects you the fan, the music, and me the artist. That's the goal – a mutual and shared respect."

Trent Reznor's Journey Back From DIY

Since then Trent Reznor has chilled on his absolutist stance regarding record labels and seemed to be going in a direction that recognized that different artists need different options depending on what they're trying to accomplish.

Yet he also seemed to be losing a bit of his technical edge as he bought into what still seems like Beats Music Kool-Aid, that Beats Music was taking a radical step forward by including human curation.

In his feature interview with SPIN, Reznor briefly references his views about Beats Music:

"I'm working on something with Beats that's a marriage of humanity and technology, which is sort of what my music has always been about."

I still think that's the Kool-Aid talking but it's important to feel good about what one is doing.

Is Reznor's Real Problem His Rigid All-or-Nothing Stance?

Reznor definitely feels good about working with Columbia Records but when he discusses the difference I start to get the feeling that he took DIY to an extreme:

"Being in control of your own destiny was great…It felt good to have my own neck on the line. But you spend a lot of time figuring out who the influential blogger at some radio station is. Market research is not a sexy thing to think about. More than that, when you're self-releasing, you have this walled garden of people that are interested in what you do, and to everyone else you're invisible."

I don't want to read too much into a situation with which I'm unfamiliar based on a few random comments but there are so many quality indie firms ready to help musicians with any aspect of what needs doing that I have to wonder if he got lost in DIY as Do-It-All-Yourself. It's as if he believes that one either does everything oneself or has to make some sort of record deal.

The Reznor Binary: Or Go Fuck Yourself

Taking an all-or-nothing stance actually fits Reznor's public presentation over time. From his early aesthetic to his later statements about DIY to his rude dismissal of DIY successes in the SPIN interview:

"I know that what we're doing flies in the face of the Kickstarter Amanda-Palmer-Start-a-Revolution thing, which is fine for her, but I'm not super-comfortable with the idea of Ziggy Stardust shaking his cup for scraps. I'm not saying offering things for free or pay-what-you-can is wrong. I'm saying my personal feeling is that my album's not a dime. It's not a buck. I made it as well as I could, and it costs 10 bucks, or go fuck yourself."

The line "it costs 10 bucks, or go fuck yourself" has found some resonance on Twitter with its punk veneer and whatever else is going on there for respondents.

But the about face in perspective, one that at first did not appear so extreme, now looks at documented successes and makes fun of them. Sure, he dismissively says it's okay for other people, but his message that "my way is the best way or fuck you" is quite clear.

[Thumbnail image courtesy LifeHouseDesigns.]


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. My impression with that last statement was that he was railing against the idea that artists have to offer their music for free or go to kickstarter and beg people for money. I think he was just saying “I worked hard on this record. If you want to hear it, you should pay for it.”

  2. Agreed. This is a great recap of Reznor’s flip-flop, but I see where he’s coming from. He’s been on both sides. Amanda Palmer was an anomaly. She has name recognition and wealth. Let’s face it: Kickstarter and any kind of crowdfunding has not and will not work for new/unknown artists trying to promote themselves. It almost does come off as “digital panhandling”, especially considering some of the so-called rewards and incentives offered for donations.
    Any artist with any value for their signature product (the album) should not resort to or giving it away freely(that includes Spotify, etc.).
    We need to rally artists and help them create real value and revenue opportunity for their music.

  3. He’d lose less credibility in my eyes if he simply admitted he sucked at marketing himself and prefers to have his hand held like a little baby by a major label.

  4. Love you Clyde but I think you missed it here….
    It more like “my way is the best way for me, and if you don’t like it fuck you”
    And considering the road he’s travelled i think its safe to say he knows himself, his art, his fans and the current state of the industry and where he wants to be in it.
    Not many have the perspective, talent, or balls to completely put it all out there..sans apologies.
    I’d never compare this to the punk ethos (whatever that even means today).

  5. I could respect his views if he hadn’t just dropped the most average NIN album possible after the equally average HTDA project. Now he just comes across as a slightly bitter middle-aged man totally out of tune with a younger generation that really don’t need Hesitation Marks in 2013.

  6. Trent has enjoyed the kind of creative freedom that global success brings. The hard down to earth attitude that is required to be independent is too much of a hassle for him. This was probably exciting for him in the beginning but the kind of work & focus required is not for Trent.
    Trent is not Joe Strummer, Jello Biafra, Patti Smith or Henry Rollins. Trent is not a revolutionary, he is a product of the old music business and he has shown his colours.
    On the other hand for one who survives in the old music business and still makes music on his own terms has to be admired.
    The decision to be o the ‘inside’ will again take his music to a wider audience… but that’s a different conversation.

  7. I think the lost thread here is that there are two distinct paths. DIY is the new A&R. You basically do your own artist development. When you reach a certain point you desperately NEED the “old music business”. Macklemore was able to do a tremendous amount on his own but when the needs became radio and physical distribution, he went to established sources to provide these services. I call it “Katy Perry’s Box”. This is the box that is for Pop music that belongs on the Top 40. The other box is for the singer songwriter/band that needs to engage in an artistic journey of development and discovery. This journey is best done intimately, slowly and with your specific fans. Trent can say whatever he wants, he’s a rock star. The rest of the artists will do the same once they earn the right to be heard. @backporchgroup

  8. I think David touches on the real issue: were Reznor’s DIY marketing efforts less than successful because he is not willing to work hard enough, doesn’t have the marketing expertise to do it himself – or because the music wasn’t that good and didn’t appeal to fans (old or new)?
    Musicians today have to constantly keep producing and innovating on BOTH musical and marketing fronts because it is a highly competitive landscape. Established artists are not just competing with other established, label-supported artists (like Swift, Timberlake and Jay Z with their massive marketing budgets), they are also competing with quirky one-hit YouTube viral sensations. Not to mention that if you want to hear really innovative new music, Soundcloud has a lot of it.
    The field is wider, the competition more fierce, and attention spans shorter. Relevance and longevity have always been tough to master in the music industry.

  9. ah, NIN was never DIY. he had a deal with sony for all his recent releases.
    not sure why anyone labeled him DIY.

  10. I find it interesting that we think Trent was ever in the DIY camp. He’s firmly planted in what I call “Katie Perry’s Box”. If you are trying to be Number One on Soundscan, get played on the mainstream radio and play sheds you are in the aforementioned box. DIY is a way of getting there, not it’s replacement. Look at Macklemore, he was all DIY until he needed what only the old model can deliver, then he made the deals needed to be mainstream. DIY is a replacement for the traditional A&R artist development function, not an industry in and of itself.
    If you want to compete at the highest levels of the marketplace you have to play in Katie Perry’s box, but if you are about songwriting and art you stay DIY until your audience size outgrows a practical version of independence. Being on your own is lonely and exhausting. You need a team if you’re going to succeed. All Trent did by signing a record deal was “activate the team!”
    Mainstream and do it yourself are not opposing views, they are different points on a timeline.

  11. The “you spend a lot of time figuring out who the influential blogger at some radio station is” comment is basically describing my career. Fact is, Mr Reznor is fortunate to have options. Not many people can decide to go to Columbia after spending time in the DIY trenches (or whatever he calls DIY). For most of us this “walled garden of people that are interested in what you do” , is rather small, or it doesn’t exist at all.
    I get what Reznor is saying, we shouldn’t have to beg people to buy our music, but it is where we are right now. It’s easy for Amanda Palmer and Reznor to argue back and forth on this issue, both have benefited greatly from the old paradigm. I want to hear more from the Zoe Keatings of the world. There aren’t enough of them though.

  12. I have listened and admired the various works and side projects of Trent Reznor for 20 years.
    Being born in 93, and his first album being released in 89, I have literally listened to his melodies since in-utero. I have always known I would someday see him perform live, but I never could have imagined it would be quite like this:
    Imagine driving to New York for Electric Zoo only to have have blast the first two days, and wake up to your third and favorite day is canceled.
    What do we do? Drive to Philadelphia to se my long time love at the Made in America Tour!!!!
    Trent hypnotized the audience with his sultry voice and we danced like natives to his infectious beats. He dazzled us with his awe inspiring lineup, some old some new. His set list built up with just the right intensity and was embossed with just the right amount of sex. The audience swayed in unison only to erupt into chaos during the break downs. This was truly the best show of my life
    And was worth waiting a lifetime to see him <3uTrent

  13. Completely agree on the point that Kickstarter won’t work for many very new artists, but the “digital panhandling” notion is anmisrepresentation that unfortunately seems to have spread through the crowd funding environment. Perhaps the communications from some artists support this perspective, but the more valid comparison is to pre-ordering than begging.
    Consider that every project to be funded (as separated from the more charitable “campaign and donation” terminology, often used without distinction) sets up a future transaction, through which the fan receives a product. They order now, pay later, receive just a little after that. This is not donating money immediately to some intangible end.
    It’s a shame that the image of this route to revenue seems to be spreading, because for many artists it’s a perfect way to gauge interest in a project and raise advance funding based on that interest, rather than signing away rights to those of your creations that some middle man decides to gamble on. If fans increasingly see crowd funding in a negative way, it could cut off a promising alternative path for artists with a limited but supportive fan base.
    As for Reznor, he came up in the boom days of $20 CD sales and milking fans for all they’re worth, so has already made his money. Flipping between business models on a whim is a luxury most artists just don’t have, so his opinion is of limited practical application.

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