You can now torrent new music from Radiohead front man Thom Yorke, but it’ll cost you. The singer is known for experimenting with new ways to distribute music, so it’s fitting that Yorke chose BitTorrent to release his latest album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
It may not be Yorke’s first foray into unorthodox album releases, but it is BitTorrent’s first pay-gated Bundle. You can download the new album, comprised of eight songs and one video, by coughing up $6—90 percent of which goes directly to Yorke. You’ll need a torrent client, available for PCs, Macs, and Android devices (there’s no BitTorrent iOS app), to download Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
The company has over the last year worked with a slew of artists and publishers to create and release Bundles. Lady Gaga, Madonna, and De La Soul are just a few of the musicians who have chosen BitTorrent to distribute their latest projects directly to fans. Those Bundles were free, typically unlocked with an email address. But BitTorrent wants to help artists make money off their work, and in a surprise move is positioning itself as the anti-streaming service.
“Streaming radio has reduced music to a bargain basement: 22 million songs for $9.99,” said Matt Mason, BitTorrent’s chief content officer. “That’s not about the next album that’s going to change your life. It’s a really ugly way to think about creativity and content. The idea that it’s not worth $6 to buy a new album or to buy a new film—this is something we fundamentally disagree with.”
The streaming shake-up
Yorke’s album is the first pay-gated Bundle, which isn’t at all surprising, considering Radiohead’s game-changing approach to music distribution with In Rainbows. The 2007 album was released as a pay-what-you-want download, which was a first for a major act. BitTorrent will be watching carefully to see if fans respond to Yorke’s solo effort as positively as they did In Rainbows. Other pay-gated projects are in the works, including an original TV series called Children of the Machine, which is due out next February. The company’s goal is to allow any artist or publisher to create and distribute a pay-gated Bundle.
Yorke set the $6 price for Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, his first solo release in eight years. Mason told me that Yorke wasn’t planning to make a new album this year, but in discussions with BitTorrent, decided he wanted to be the first artist to release a pay-gated Bundle using the peer-to-peer protocol. He recorded the project specifically for Friday’s BitTorrent release.
“There’s a place for streaming, but artists need to be able to sell stuff to fans as well,” Mason said. “Bundles can be a distribution format for almost anything. Fans need to be comfortable with the idea of paying artists for what they make just like they pay Starbucks for coffee. If we don’t pay artists for what they do, then artists aren’t going to be able to do what they do.”