Earlier this month (April 3rd) Ozomatli released their new album, Don’t Mess with the Dragon. It rocks. It’s fun and exciting and has a great (and infectious) beat. Like all their albums. I’ve been listening to it and dancing while I do my housework. It’s so much more fun to vacuum when you’re doing a salsa at the same time. Really. Try it. You’ll see.
Today (TODAY!!) Nine Inch Nails released Year Zero, less than two years after With Teeth. Trent Reznor did some serious viral marketing on his latest album, to the point of catching the attention of “non-fans” like the big guys at Google (Matt Cutts) and Rolling Stone. He left USB drives for people to find at concerts, giving fans pre-releases of tracks from the new album and leading them a neat little “down the rabbit hole” chase through the web. A series of websites linked from one to the other, all leading fans through a network of ideas (and a vision of the future), while keeping them interested and guessing. Messages were hidden on t-shirts and buttons. Listening parties (hear the full album before the release!) were held where fans were given more “clues” to the website maze. All in all, quite brilliant. Fans used webpages/fanpages (examples here and here), message boards and wikis to keep each other informed. And Trent has encouraged it all. It has been fascinating to watch, and it’s still going. It’s not done yet. It’s still evolving. There are more “clues” on the album, in the CD booklet, the cover art, and on the physical CD itself (“thermachrome” art that is only visible when the disc is warm, how cool!). Oh, and let’s not forget, the entire thing is a commentary on the possible state of the future world, it’s a make-believe and rather bleak future where the government has control of it’s citizens via a drug they put in the water called parepin (do a Google search for it, I dare you…).
I’ll be buying the album, regardless of the marketing, but that’s because I’m a long term fan (think back to the beginning of NIN with Down In It and Pretty Hate Machine in 1989) and I buy ALL the albums. Trent’s been doing viral stuff for awhile, one example being the lyrics to With Teeth, which were made available via a PDF file that linked one song to another using colored text (there was no booklet with the album). From what I understand via interviews, it’s not about selling records for Trent, it’s really about the music. So making it possible for fans to listen to the entire album (which he did) prior to release might seem insane, but I wasn’t at all surprised. In one of my favorite interviews with Trent he talks about how when he gets a new album, he turns off the phone, sits down, and listens to the entire album from start to finish. He has to experience the album and the music as a whole. Because, ultimately, it’s about the music. And I happen to agree wholeheartedly (as someone that really does get “lost” listening to music as much as I do when reading a book).
Overall Trent has really tapped into the web2.0 market and made the music an experience that the fans participate in and help shape. I have so much respect for that. He’s reinvented himself and the band over and over, constantly growing as an artist and musician. Nine Inch Nails has blogs (yes, plural), a MySpace page, fan sites that are detailed, and an ever evolving main website complete with a “resources” page that has exterior links. Not to mention downloads galore for those that want them. You have desktop wallpaper, sound files that fans can remix and then upload back to the main site (granted, in Garageband for Macs, but still…), song lyrics, and so much more. It takes the music beyond and really engages the fans, making them active listeners, not just passive receivers. Which, in a nutshell, is what web2.0 is all about, engaging users. Year Zero as an album in particular is supposed to be more than just the album, everything, including the websites, is Year Zero. It’s a whole package: image, story, future world, music, all tied together; every piece is significant (although the music is the ultimate expression). And it’s not done yet. It’s still evolving.
Oh, and if anyone’s interested, Year Zero (the album) rocks. Different than every album that came before, and just as incredible. I’m in love with NIN all over again (happens every time I hear a new release). It’s distinct in its sound from the other albums/releases, yet without betraying its roots so you can still tell it’s Nine Inch Nails. Truly reflects the ever evolving nature of Nine Inch Nails as a musical entity.