saul follow-up and facts


It’s a strange time to be an artist in the recording business. It’s pretty easy to see what NOT to do these days, but less obvious to know what’s right. As I find myself free from the bloated bureaucracy of major labels, finally able to do whatever I want… well, what is that? What is the “right” way to release records, treat your music and your audience with respect and attempt to make a living as well? I have a number of musician friends who are either in a similar situation or feel they soon will be, and it’s a real source of anxiety and uncertainty.
I’d like to share my experience releasing Saul Williams’ “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust” and what I’ve learned from the process. Perhaps by revealing of all our data – our “dirty laundry” – we can contribute to a better solution.

A quick history: Saul makes a great record that I produce. We can’t find the right home at a major label. We decide to release it ourselves, digitally. Saul does not have limitless financial resources so we shop around for a company that can fulfill our needs. We choose Musicane because they are competent and are willing to adapt to what we want. The results are here:

We offer the entire record free (as in totally free to the visitor – we pay bandwidth costs) as 192 MP3s, or for $5 you can choose higher fidelity versions and feel good about supporting the artist directly. We offer all major CCs and PayPal as payment options.
Here’s what I was thinking: Fans are interested in music as soon as it’s available (that’s a good thing, remember) and usually that’s a leak from the label’s manufacturing plants. Offering the record digitally as its first appearance in the marketplace eliminates that problem. I thought if you offered the whole record free at reasonable quality – no strings attached – and offered a hassle free way to show support that clearly goes straight to the artists who made it at an unquestionably low price people would “do the right thing”. I know, I know…
Well, now I DO know and you will too.

Saul’s previous record was released in 2004 and has sold 33,897 copies.

As of 1/2/08,
154,449 people chose to download Saul’s new record.
28,322 of those people chose to pay $5 for it, meaning:
18.3% chose to pay.

Of those paying,

3220 chose 192kbps MP3
19,764 chose 320kbps MP3
5338 chose FLAC

Keep in mind not one cent was spent on marketing this record. The only marketing was Saul and myself talking as loudly as we could to anybody that would listen.
If 33,897 people went out and bought Saul’s last record 3 years ago (when more people bought CDs) and over 150K – five times as many – sought out this new record, that’s great – right?
I have to assume the people knowing about this project must either be primarily Saul or NIN fans, as there was very little media coverage outside our direct influence. If that assumption is correct – that most of the people that chose to download Saul’s record came from his or my own fan-base – is it good news that less than one in five feel it was worth $5? I’m not sure what I was expecting but that percentage – primarily from fans – seems disheartening.
Add to that: we spent too much (correction, I spent too much) making the record utilizing an A-list team and studio, Musicane fees, an old publishing deal, sample clearance fees, paying to give the record away (bandwidth costs), and nobody’s getting rich off this project.

Saul’s music in in more people’s iPods than ever before and people are interested in him. He’ll be touring throughout the year and we will continue to get the word out however we can.

So – if you’re an artist looking to utilize this method of distribution, make of these figures what you will and hopefully this info is enlightening.


posted by Trent Reznor at 1:04 pm

comments @


44 thoughts on “saul follow-up and facts

  1. Vega

    OK so I downloaded the FLAC – and I definitely appreciate that not only can I support talent directly, but I don’t have to sacrifice quality. I’m a little miffed however about the whole record label thing because ever since I started writing and singing I’ve wanted to be on Nothing Records. LoL Oh well. I guess that’s the least of my worries. :/

  2. DK

    I d/l Saul’s album for free and did not purchase it because I didn’t like it. I d/l InRainbows and bought it right after listening to it (I’m aware this skews the sales % figures). Personally if i listen to an album twice I always buy it.

    I do like this sales approach and it’ll only improve in the long term with a combination of online marketing.

  3. hotelminibar

    In 2000 I was member of the NIN boards and I decided to try something with the members of the NIN board and anyone else who was interested, I set up Industrial Bunker – a yahoo discussion board where every member had admin status meaning anyone who was a member could delete the entire discussion board, I did this to see how much of a counter culture was out there against the control of discussion boards by two or three officials and to see if members were wanting to control their own thing rather than be controlled..well just as I predicted people are happy to give control over to others, they were pissed off that they had to bother about having any control or responsibility over their discussion board and there were some people who wanted to be officials – like school hall monitors – and they were pissed pff because they had no status with the anonymous cyber herd…anyway Trent the whole scenario with giving the listener the choice to pay or not pay, is all about the ownership of control for the artists, the audience and anybody else who is effected and expectations are purely individual amongst these groups, there is no monopoly of control just a free market headspace so Trent I think what Saul and you did was well done..$5 was not a true consensus of the anonymous listeners, it’s just a figure your holding sacred but are the listeners?!…Trent I did’nt get to see you in Sydney last time… potts point victoria st strip next time not woolloomooloo Harry Cafe de Wheels 😉

  4. hotelminibar

    perhaps I was’nt specific about the $5 true consensus thing, what I meant Saul’s and your efforts can’t be equated to a crass ebay auction and the highest bid being $5! surely you don’t think the listeners were there placing value on the music in dollars..if this is how you are thinking what is the bleeding point of all this, you are still thinking in economics not creative expression, it’s like you are trying this for novelty but not for the reality…apologies I got carried awsay – you can tell I’m passionate about this stuff!

  5. nickkie

    thanks for sharing this info. I have been eagerly awaiting the results since the day it was released, and frankly thought we’d never know since it’s been a while. I am both surprised and disappointed by that 18%, but on the other hand this is a totally new territory. obviously the old system is broken, but a new system hasn’t been hammered out either. this is a critical step on the way to creating a new system, so even if it’s not a ringing success it’s still important. obviously not knowing details I think there are a lot of factors that can influence a person to pay or not. I did pay for the album for several reasons; mostly because I think it’s a good way to send a message to the industry, and if given the choice of stealing music (not that you could in this case) or supporting artists directly I will pick the latter. HOWEVER, there was a time not too long ago where $5 meant the difference between eating or not, and actually paying for the music I was downloading was not an option. In a probably overly idealistic and naive way I don’t think art should be only for those who can afford it; the beauty of art is that once it’s released into to the wild those who consume not only see what the artist has given us, but see ourselves and hopefully gain some understanding of ourselves through it, and maybe even be inspired to create something of our own to put out there and keep the ball rolling. of course the flip side of that is how are artists supposed to make a living doing this? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does right now, but I think we all know the current system is irreparable.

    as for the album itself…I have his self titled album and while I think Saul is a wonderful writer and poet the music side of that album was very lacking. there was a lot of promise, but it needed a guiding hand so to speak. I think this album is worlds better, and was really a complete package, and I think he will only continue to improve.

  6. Guessron

    1. i bought the record
    2. i love the record
    3. most people who pay for records don’t care if a band/record is necessarily”good,” its more like memorizing batting averages to them so they don’t look like an asshole at the figurative water cooler.
    4. Most artists in general have never made a decent living since the beginning of time.
    5. US copyright law allowed non-musicians to profit vastly by creating a briefly and/or unnecessary business around commodifying art for mass consumption by those who only value it as a inconsequential backdrop to their generally inattentive pursuits.
    5. whats new? are you surprised?

    Oh yeah, the are suing you now. you filthy thief.

  7. kasper_kane

    3. most people who pay for records don’t care if a band/record is necessarily”good,” its more like memorizing batting averages to them so they don’t look like an asshole at the figurative water cooler.
    end quotation

    That statement is incredibly false. The first part would be true If we had a buying/selling situation like we had maybe ten years ago. The market has changed my friend, the scene is so cut up and divided that trends don’t survive. It is similar to the situation we had in the eighties. Everyone is flying on the wings of new media trade and prolific artists from ages ago. What little can seep out of the machine usually presents itself as a poor commercial attempt to reproduce those artists success. What few people that would buy records right now are those who either depend on the voice of the artist or deem that specific action as a learning experience.

  8. Guessron

    4. whatever kasper said

    i dearly wish i could inflict enuf denial on myself to wake up in a fantasy realm where i agreed with you.

  9. kasper_kane

    we can only make logicial decisions based on what has been proven by history.

    its easy
    elvis in the 50’s became zeppelin in the 70’s
    buddy holly became pink floyd
    zeppelin in the 70’s became nirvana in the 90’s
    pink floyd became nine inch nails

    its a trend proven by history

    what we refer to as 60’s music actually was big in the 70’s
    bear in mind
    woodstock 69′ and later the end of the vietnam war

    each creative boost is usually followed by a proportionate lull
    we are about to exit one of those lulls

    the cassette became the cd
    the cd became the mp3

    think of all the hacked cassettes and cds that have been championed by our culture, the wonderfull ages of the mix tape.
    of course with the inflation of technology and population comes the inflation of people apt to trade it.

    things will settle out.
    cool off.
    some people have integrity.
    just not at the moment.

  10. Guessron

    Well, to bring this “conversation” back on point: I don’t know what sort of ROI a recording artist is used to for a project like this, but I think the pessimism in the post speaks volumes. Total revenue was just under 100K, once you subtract the “A-list” recording costs, distribution costs, and split the remainder as appropriate, neither Mr. Williams nor Mr. Reznor are seeing enuf $$ to justify 6 months of work.

    Its a fairly tragic result to a grand experiment. However there are still some unknowns:

    1. actual cd sales might be significant, although spending zero on marketing means the internet distribution splash is the only publicity.
    2. the amount of copies in distribution is significant so the likelihood of real hit being acknowledged by a lucrative car commercial or MTV bumper could be higher than before.
    3. a ton of Williams and Reznor fans cross pollinated, which could serve their careers very well in the long run.
    4. ticket sales for Williams this year may well be higher or command higher prices due to the exposure gained in 1-3 above.

    All that being said, I think this record was sold in a manner smarter than “In Rainbows” and all in it is unlikely that Williams and Reznor are going to be better off economically than if they had made a traditional release. The post this is responding to certainly isn’t enthusiastic.

    Finally, even if this project is an economic success for Williams and Reznor in the long run, is this model really going to be useful to self releasing artists who don’t have the past exposure of Williams and Reznor? As a model for future musicians the value is not clear here at all.

    But at least they made history. That must have been fun.

  11. kasper_kane

    Hopefully what shall come of this effort put forth in the Niggy Tardust collaboration is another artist/artist on the front of the new decade. One thing is for certain, that it was a forward step in the trial and error process associated with conquering the internet music trade.

  12. Guessron

    hrm. i think ‘conquering’ and ‘forward step’ are strong phrases to use. i would consider this more a progression in the price war where music sellers are competing with a free product and will eventually see the price for actual recordings fall to zero. new revenue streams are possible but this record will only exemplify that if the tracks see royalties from other usage (Sunday Bloody Sunday perhaps). I find your optimism is refreshing, but i think your position of faith won’t stop intense downward pressure on profits and/or wages of everyone involved in selling recorded music. i think this affects a very small contingent of musicians (‘recording artists’) and I do not think it will have much of an effect on art as a whole. That being said I believe: price approaches zero, any new renaissance brings little profit, artists remain broke as usual.

  13. kasper_kane

    Given that I assume you are a fellow artist in some format, I wish you luck from your pessimistic perch and amend your modesty; but unfortunately the life of humble mans carries no further than digging ditches. My optimism is refreshing because I choose to MAKE my surroundings fall in the desired path. Artists who remain poor are those that chose to remain poor. I hope that in some way you can gain a certain enlightenment from that. I have no intentions of offense.

    On the subject of wars waged with weak weapons, I can only offer my knowledge on the subject: when everyones dead, the wars over.

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  15. triinity

    I bought this d/l twice. On purpose… bottom line is I want to support Trent. Saul was just a bonus. I don’t care about the record labels or the big box stores. I just wanted to be part of something that brings distribution in a new direction. I think it’s important to show Trent that it’s worth the effort. I’m looking forward to the next artist he supports this way!

  16. Gregory E. Pilling

    Even $5 is too much to charge the average music listener these days. The price people are willing to pay for something depends on it’s scarcity. Music has lost almost all of it’s scarcity thanks to the internet, thus music now has almost zero dollar value to the average person. Yes, it’s sad, but it’s plain and simple economics. Honestly, I am not at all surprised at the small percentage of fans who actually paid for the album.

    Having said that, I did pay $5 for the album and enjoy it very much.

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  18. francesca

    Trent Reznor, I think, is one of the real Musician who love music with his soul, so, any idea in his mind is a great idea.
    We care and I wish you the best.
    From Chile, the ass of the world….

  19. Denyer

    Personally I’d be more inclined to download and trial it from an illicit source than click on a link that implies I’m deliberately not supporting an artist by not paying for the download before hearing the album.

  20. melissa

    i downloaded the album for free and maybe i should say i’m sorry? i don’t know… however i LOVE the album… i love it so much i want to listen to all the songs at once/mass consumption. i can’t wait to see saul in concert; i guess that will be my way of supporting him.

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  22. Tim Uruski

    I stumbled upon the disc via a music blog, having never before heard of Saul Williams and never being a listener of NiN and I’ve fallen completely in love with it. It’s an atrocity that people think $5 is too much for music of this quality. In my mind the price point was low enough to warrant a purchase even if I didn’t end up liking it. But I guess I’m in the minority there.

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  24. francesca

    I have a fuckin´ bipolar depression for many fuckin´ years, and nine inch nails, trent reznor particularly make me see that the world in my head is a real world, every song are a past thought of my sick head. thanks Trent for show me a way to be a happy crazy motherfucker every time I listen your music.
    maybe you never read this, hope is not in my vocabulary.
    from chile, the ass of the world…..

  25. saturnine

    this may sound stupid or unthinkable to some, but i can honestly say i do not have any means to make online payment, i never did, and i do not know anyone who has, i’m not saying that people in my country do not have bank accounts in dollars or euro, but i do not, i never needed it for anything, and i would never have the courage to buy something from the net,nor do i know how . i’m not saying that about Saul’s album, i know it is safe, but until now, i have never come across something that would feel safe to purchase online . so maybe this should be taken into account, that maybe a percentage of people who downloaded the album without paying, were people who couldn’t pay for the reason i mentioned, and whom might have paid under other circumstances .


    זה התגובות יענו? שנים אני חולה על רובי ווילאמס הזה.. תכננתי להגיע אליו הביתה, בסוף מתברר שהוא יכול להגיע אליי?? יאאא איזה קטעים איתי

  27. nicestpartsofhell

    yeah! what??? 🙂 No, I just wanted to comment that TR must be really upset with us all because he hasn’t made another post since January 3. So, what can we do? It isn’t my fault that his and Saul’s efforts weren’t appreciated by the masses. I love Saul and Trent both as artists. I saw them together at the VooDoo Festival in New Orleans in October 2005. AWESOME!!!

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  29. h

    January 18, 2008


    RE: 18.3% and the “Honor System” for Distribution

    I’m going to preface this by saying I don’t know what your stance is on marketing and direct distribution. And frankly, I’m too damn lazy to Google and look it up.

    It’s a given: illegal file-sharing has become the norm. People have become comfortable with it. Society has adopted a “Why buy the cow?” mentality.

    So, how do you get people to realize that greed and apathy are two of the greatest threats to music today? First, from the record companies, and now by fans.

    Right now, I’m hoping it’s just a matter of TIME for people to re-adjust their thinking.
    Until then some people may need of some kind of incentive.

    Okay people . . .Brace yourselves (lame suggestion ahead):

    “Every of downloads, a name will be entered into a drawing for .” Or just choose randomly.

    So what can you offer them?
    What are you WILLING to offer them?

    Signed swag?
    A “personalized” DVD (performance & commentary singularly tailored to the winner)?
    A special performance online? [Possibly “unplugged” to lower costs.]
    Front row concert seats?
    A meet and greet?
    Something significantly more creative than I can think of right now?

    To improve the odds, (hence, upping the incentive factor) you could offer incentives to more than one winner (i.e. swag).

    Another thought: if you and Saul choose to offer the exclusive one-on-one “real time” experience via webcam (of say,five songs?) you might let the winner decide Saul’s set list.

    Maybe offer different incentives for different minimum payments ($10 for a chance at signed swag, $15 for a shot at a personal web-concert, etc.)?

    Offer people something they can’t get from file-sharing.

    As an established artist with a huge (if slightly obsessive) fan-base, I don’t think this will be an issue for NIN material. However, I can definitely see the dilemma with launching new artists.

    These aren’t the greatest suggestions or even particularly good ones– but, if you can overlook the potential cheese factor, I think it might work. Especially if you offer big-ticket items like front row seats or a meet and greet when touring with Saul (assuming you do so) OR a personal “one-on-one” web experience.
    I actually like the web experience idea–and it seems more practical. Tasteful presentation could eliminate the cheese factor.

    I know this whole idea may not be cost effective right now, but it might be worth the investment in the long run. You’ve already expended “beau-coup dinero” with this project, so it seems a shame not to go the extra mile to make it work.

    All I’m saying is, you may want to consider the necessary evil of marketing strategies.

    Yes, I know marketing is part of the bloated bureaucracy you just escaped from–but it just may be the “kick start” that’s needed.

    Just something to consider.

    NIN fans: what are your thoughts??

  30. h


    What was originally typed was:

    “Every _____ number of downloads, a name will be entered into a drawing for _____.” Or just choose randomly.

  31. cldnails

    I was interested in hearing the music and potentially being a customer…but it looks like any and all ‘free’ downloads were suspended. Do you think removing any option for ‘free’ download to sample the music has had an adverse effect as word of mouth picks up?

    This was one potential customer…but unless I download now illegally somewhere I probably won’t know what it sounds like till I pony up even $5.

  32. M

    There are some important factors which I think you overlooked here. I think this approach can have a lot of potential, especially if more people realised how badly the artists are being screwed by the record companies. I would sugegst the following:

    1. limit the download speed for the free tracks
    2. why set an absolute cap of $5? Why not set that as a minimum and then if people download the free version and like it, they can show that by paying more.
    3. include a personal thank you message from saul in the paid for one. That sort of thing means a lot to fans.
    4. Do it with more tracks.
    5. include a brief ad in the free one advertising other paid for songs they can buy.
    6. Don’t make it a one off. I bet every one of those 154,449 people would come back for more

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  35. Rotten Noodles

    I’m disappointed to hear about the poor sales. I think online distribution is great, and I gladly payed the $5. Nevertheless, I think there were a few problems with distribution.

    1) Bandwidth costs can be vastly reduced by using P2P. Setting up a private Bittorrent tracker is a cheap, password-protected way to get free bandwidth, and all it takes is one hardcore fan with a broadband connection to keep a torrent going.
    2) I’m a smidgeon audiophilic, so I chose the non-lossy FLAC version, but FLAC has poor support. IMO, they should have charged a little extra for the non-lossy version and used zipped WAV or ISO format. At the very least, they should have provided better information on using FLAC.
    3) The set price of $5 seems ill-advised. At the very least, they should have provided an easy means for users to pay more than required. In their position, I would have used a tiered pricing scheme (ie, <$5 is a donation, $5 is high-bitrate MP3, $6 is issued as WAV’s, etc).
    4) On the main page, before downloading, link a YouTube video of Saul talking about why fans should pay and not just download. A few tugs at the heartstrings and a little reasoning would go along way toward improving sales.

    Still, thank you, Trent and Saul, for your bravery! I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

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