For a band that doesn’t really stay still and likes to experiment, Radiohead are going for it once again. New album In Rainbows will be available digitally from their website from 10 October but the wrinkle is that fans can pay whatever they feel is right for the album. A spokesmen for the band said that only a handful are paying a penny while most are paying the standard CD price.

For an established band, it’s not that risky a step but does highlight the perilous position of record labels. With Prince shipping 3 million copies of his album through a partnership with
a newspaper and now Radiohead bypassing the label altogether – though a CD release will come out through old partners EMI in the new year – the clouds continue to gather.

Of course, labels still offer extremely valuable services to bands, removing a lot of hassle and noise from their daily lives (the band that is) but more and more the question will be on what terms will abds work with labels. Advance plus label keeping the masters? I don’t think so. Robbie Williams style sharing deals? Perhaps, but many artists are working to smaller scale and sharing live and merchandise receipts doesn’t make much sense when there are many digital services companies ready and willing to cover what the artists foesn’t want to take on from the label’s former chores.

Some labels are attempting to build in-house digital consultancies but amjors are too big and too slow and need serious ROI from investments these days. It’s getting tough and 2008 will only get tougher for the labels.

Now, time to pre-book that Radiohead special edition CD…

Here’s Guy Hands, new chief of EMI, sounding out the warning for the other labels in the Daily Telegraph.

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