Saul Williams

It was inevitable. With the likes of Radiohead doing “donationware”, DRM-free MP3 downloads, someone was bound to follow. (And, in fairness, Radiohead were by no means the first — this is something various artists have been talking about or doing for years. Updated: for some examples of other free albums through music history, see comments below. And as the trend grows, expect a lot more artist-to-listener downloads, or even small label-to-listener or small online store-to-listener, soon.)

The latest is Saul Williams, with the album “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!” So, what has he got that Radiohead hasn’t got?

  • Trent Reznor producing.

  • PDF of liner notes (something missing from Radiohead)
  • Simpler options — either free or US$5, and none of this “pounds” or “pay what you want” nonsense. (Wow, you Brits still use that currency? Kidding. And yeah, I know our dollar is presently worthless.)
  • Higher-quality download options — 320kbps MP3 or lossless FLAC — for those paying the five bucks
  • Embeddable player for the Web
  • The backing of the label started by The Fader

And aside from the technological argument, I’ll be interested to hear what poet/musician has to say about race, particularly at this time in America; that’s promised to be a big emphasis of this album as the name implies.

Note that the PDF liner notes and lossless/higher-quality downloads were something people specifically said they wanted following the Radiohead release. Saul and Reznor both single out the Radiohead decision as inspiration, meaning you could see new developments from Reznor and Nine Inch Nails soon.

All of this is academic because I haven’t heard the album. But it’s interesting to watch artists try to out-cool each other on online distribution. I’m guessing we’ll eventually see a norm start to evolve. The other clear message: no one really cares about stopping piracy with crackdowns or DRM, because they’d rather build fan relationships and find the people who want to pay. (Imagine that.)

Niggy Tardust Pre-orders