Radiohead encourage fan collaboration

As a huge Radiohead fan (see my last.fm profile if you don’t believe me!) I have been watching their recent experiments in releasing their latest album online, with great interest. A lot has already been written on this subject, and the impact of this on the music industry.

However there has been much less written about the manner in which Radiohead released their latest single, “Nude”. Aside from the traditional CD, Vinyl and download formats, the band also made available 5 “stems” of the track (spilt into vocals, guitar, drums, bass, strings/fx – one for each member of the band). Fans were encouraged to purchase these (at 79p each), remix the track, and upload it to a new website built to promote this project, radioheadremix.com.

During April, 2252 remixes were submitted, including some by signed artists. Fans can listen to the remixes through the site and vote for ones they like best. With over 2.5 million visitors in April, each viewing on average 5 pages, the success of radioheadremix.com is clear to see.

This project demonstrates the power of the Internet in allowing people to collaborate much more easily than they have been able to in the past. The fans who upload their remixes are providing high quality, unique content for the site entirely voluntarily. In fact they are paying for the privilege, and since it costs considerably more to download the stems than the track itself this creates another revenue stream for the band.

The site provides widgets for people to use on their own pages/social network profiles. Fans who have submitted remixes want theirs to be listened to so that it receives more votes and appears higher in the list. These fans have done a lot work to promote their remix (e.g. by using these widgets provided). All of this voluntary work is great for promoting the new single and the band, and it is all achieved at a very low cost.

This level of engagement with their fans is a brave move for Radiohead as they are now offering 2252 different versions of ‘Nude’ for free. They are clearly confident that their version of the song is strong enough that people will be willing to pay for it, and don’t feel threatened by the remixes.

Any brand that is interested in making the most of new technologies to promote itself could learn a lot from these digital strategies. By making your product available in different formats you can provide new services to your customers, which they will be happy pay for.

By encouraging collaboration, brands are able to engage with their customers. This can lead to low-cost brand promotion, content generation, business strategy, market research etc. The Internet has made this kind of interaction between brands and their customers more powerful than ever before, and available to anyone who can effectively harness it.

The decision to use iTunes to release the stems is an interesting one. There seemed to be considerable confusion at iTunes about whether to chart the 5 stems and the track itself together or separately. If each stem was in the chart individually then the charts would be dominated by Radiohead. However if the figures were combined this would mean that the track would be charting much higher, which some might argue was an inaccurate representation of the sales figures. In any case this probably explains why ‘Nude’ was number 37 in the Billboard Hot 100 on the week of its release, the bands first appearance there since 1995.

The emerging channels of new media offer huge possibilities for marketing to those who understand them and can maximise their potential. Brands should consider how to captialise on these channels in order to stay ahead of their competitors.

Ben Dwyer

In the commercial sector, Benjamin’s research-led strategic input has included analysing internet user activity and advising on interface improvements in the travel, pharmaceutical and fashion industries. Benjamin’s structured, reasoned approach helps teams to work collaboratively to achieve their goals.