One of the promises of the Internet is the ability to speak directly to people, thousands or millions at a time, and for them to speak right back. With that in mind, Nine Inch Nails join the growing wave of established recording artists who see record companies as irrelevant. No longer stuck in a conventional record deal, NIN recently have released a 36 track instrumental album called Ghosts, available in various configurations over the Internet, from totally free downloads of nine (of course) sample tracks, to paid downloads of the entire album, to totally expensive box sets fulfilled offline. This is not a promotion. This is a business model. And it doesn’t stop there. Wrapping the project in a Creative Commons license, NIN are inviting fans to collaborate in the creative process and virally promote the music by submitting video interpretations of the music for a YouTube film festival. Here is a sample (by dust062): [no longer available]

Cool. This is what the audience is contributing. What does a record company do exactly? Well, it provides marketing and distribution. Typically that takes the form of radio promotion, video production for television, and getting CD’s and other physical products manufactured and shipped into stores. The record company of course oversees things online as well, but usually more as a gatekeeper than as an authentic force that’s driving sales. Record companies largely are not taste makers any more.

As more and more buzz is created and consumed online, and more and more people want their music loaded onto their iPods and mobile phones, and more and more social networking sites like MySpace give the ability of anyone to post music and videos online and maintain a fan base, this makes record companies irrelevant.