Radiohead’s seventh album ‘In Rainbows’ as now officially out in North America. Not Capital Records or EMI Canada, but independent labels TBD Records (ATO, USA) and Maple Music Recordings (Canada) have released the album.
For relatively small labels, releasing one of the most talked about albums of this century, it was quite a challenge.”To use a hockey analogy, this is like having Vincent Lecavalier or Sidney Crosby on the free-agent market. It’s unbelievable,” Grant Dexter, Maple’s founder and CEO told The Star.
“Everyone was fighting to get this thing, but the band and their management wanted to be on a boutique label where they’d get lots of attention and any time they called, they could talk to the different people taking care of their product.”
True, MapleMusic is distributed by Universal Music, the most major of the major labels. But Radiohead, which has been carefully licensing In Rainbows on a territory-by-territory basis, could have gone directly to Universal Canada in the first place and didn’t.
So no wonder, as outgoing Maple general manager Kim Cooke recently remarked to me, everyone at the company “thought we were on drugs” when Thom Yorke et al. came calling.
The introduction was facilitated by Maple’s friendly relationship with the similarly small-scaled American label ATO Records, with whom it recently issued new albums by Crowded House and Underworld.
“Tara Luft, our head of marketing, and I were at a CD-release party for another artist when we got the call (saying): `We’re talking to Radiohead. Can you be on a plane down here in 48 hours to present a marketing plan?'” laughs Dexter. “So we were, like: `Back to the office! Back to the office! Sober up!'”
The last two Radiohead albums have scanned 140,000 copies apiece in Canada. Dexter reckons the storm of media attention already granted In Rainbows will eventually push it to sales of 120,000 to 160,000 copies “at least.”
“How many Wal-Mart moms have now heard of Radiohead?” he says. “It’s gonna be really interesting to see if their base expands. More people know that band now than probably did around OK Computer.”
In the USA, ATO is shipping an estimated 400,000 copies of the album to record shops, said executives briefed on the label’s plans. It is not uncommon for shops to sell half of the shipment of a big album in its first week on sale.
As a result, it is seen as a long shot that the band could match the performance of “Hail to the Thief,” which sold 300,000 copies in its first week after going on sale in June 2003, and went on to sell a total of roughly 1 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan data.
Will Botwin, the president of ATO, told the New York Times that in spite of the availability of Radiohead’s music online, many fans might still have reason to pay for the CD version. “You’ve still got hard-core Radiohead fans that are very inclined to own anything they can from the band,” he said.
He added that the critical praise and international headlines generated by the band’s release plan may have drawn new fans. “I think you’re going to find a new buyer that might be more curious, that might’ve gotten turned on by all the attention,” he said. Still, he acknowledged, “it’s faith on our part.”
He continued: “There’s nothing normal here. There are not normal business principles.”