The music world had a mild blowup when Radiohead announced that the recently-completed album In Rainbows would be released worldwide on its website in October 2007. Those seeking to download the album could pay whatever price they saw fit.

Such a release was unprecedented at the time – Radiohead did not work with any music label, eliminating the middle man and thereby (theoretically) increasing their profits. The commercial success of the download is unclear as the band has not publicized its download sales numbers.

However, it seems that eliminating a label in record release negotiations was an attractive prospect to big-box retailer Wal-Mart, which has now announced four deals with different artists to advertise, market and release certain albums exclusively in Wal-Mart stores.

Wal-Mart recently released a new album by the popular 80s band Journey, in a deal made without a record label. A new three-disc album will be available only at Wal-Mart, which is counting on the previous success and fame of the band, in addition to its own marketing, to entice sales. The album was released in Wal-Mart stores on June 3, and has sold more copies in one week than the band’s previous album sold in total.

Does this trend indicate a decline in the influence of major record labels in America? It seems that this might be so. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started a wave of lawsuits against college students a few years ago and since then the music industry has struggled to keep pace with the demands of consumers. Now it seems that both the artistic talent and commercial music distribution centers are willing to skip the middle man of the industry and go directly to the audience.

For more information, see: The New York Times

Laura Keane

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