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The arrangement is said to be a 50/50 joint venture and will not involve a sizable advance—in keeping with what are expected to be only modest physical sales.
I.B. BAD CHASES RAINBOWS WITH RADIOHEAD, SEARCHING FOR THE POT OF GOLD
The Band May Be Going It Alone Right Now, but a Possible New Label Partner Waits in the Wings
Industry eyes are fixed on Radiohead following the paradigm-busting, headline-grabbing “pay what you like” digital self-release of its upcoming seventh album, In Rainbows—thus indelibly marking the band’s belated entry into the digital marketplace. Along with generating rampant discussion both inside the music business and among the general public, this stunning move has ramped up the ongoing speculation as to the identity of Radiohead’s next label partner (or partners).

The inside word is that the band and its managers, Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge, are close to making a U.S. deal for the physical distribution of the album with mega-entrepreneur Coran Capshaw, whose own career has been characterized by thinking outside the box. Best known as manager of the Dave Matthews Band, Capshaw has made a fortune in real estate, the Internet, merchandising, ticketing and other ventures, including the Bonnaroo franchise and the ATO label, making this prospective marriage a perfect fit from a philosophical standpoint.

The most likely scenario has the band signing with Capshaw’s organization and releasing the album on the Side One label, headed by Will Botwin, who handles the day-to-day operation of Capshaw’s music division. Phil Costello, who has been tight with Radiohead and its management since the band’s early days, when he headed promotion at Capitol, will be in charge of marketing and promotion for the project.

The arrangement is said to be a 50/50 joint venture and will not involve a sizable advance—in keeping with what are expected to be only modest physical sales. What remains unclear is the term of the deal and the number of albums involved.

Domestic distribution will most likely be handled by RED, a known entity to Botwin from his time heading Columbia Records. Outside the U.S., EMI appears to have the inside track on distribution, primarily because of the band’s close ties to EMI U.K. veteran Tony Wadsworth, who signed them to Parlophone in 1992.

Meanwhile, as the Radiohead-Capshaw marriage proceeds toward its expected consummation, WMG’s ongoing pursuit of the band in hopes of making a more traditional deal takes on an increasingly more desperate tenor.

Many believe the band is shooting itself in the foot by not setting a specific price on the download of In Rainbows, while concurrently selling a deluxe edition of the album at a premium price of 40 pounds, but others point to the extreme loyalty long exhibited by Radiohead’s rabid base. These supporters contend that Radiohead fans may be perfectly willing to rip off the record companies, but the majority aren’t likely to rip off their favorite band.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how many fans are willing to shell out the price of a coffee-table book or a conventional box set to have a custom-made art piece from their heroes. Mathematicians are speculating about how many of those stateside fans who bought Radiohead’s 2001 LP Amnesiac (900k) or 2003’s Hail to the Thief (990k) will take the band up on its latest offer, and how many will spring for the standard CD when it’s released in January.

And while most tastemakers agree that the group hasn’t released a bona fide classic since 1997’s OK Computer, the fans still obsessively follow its every move, the critical consensus is that Radiohead has few peers in live performance and many in the music business as well as the critical community continue to refer to Radiohead as “the best band in the world.” In this sense, this envelope-pushing experiment is also a fascinating test of the lure of old-fashioned star power in an era when most of the trappings of the rock era are long gone.

By skewering the formula for releasing an album, Radiohead is also thumbing its nose at the mainstream record industry’s latter-day emphasis on the blockbuster debut. But as for the traditional record business, this was another solid fourth-quarter sales week, as Rascal Flatts became the latest thoroughbred from Bob Cavallo’s stable to sprint out of the starting gates with a #1 debut north of 500k. Steve Barnett’s Team Columbia is sustaining the Q4 momentum on next week’s chart with Magic, the first album in five years from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which is projecting an over/under of 350k-plus, and early reports from the international sector are comparably big—evidencing the ongoing fervency of this rock star’s core fan base. The high-profile setup included a free download of single “Radio Nowhere” on iTunes and a virtual takeover of The Today Show by Springsteen and band on Sept. 28.

Staying on the subject of sales totals, Britney Spears’ recent missteps and meltdowns haven’t adversely impacted her commercial potency, as indicated by the way “Gimme More” rocketed to the top of the iTunes singles chart, with 170k downloads in the first week. Apple also figures prominently in Feist’s rapid ascent, as she becomes the beneficiary of an iPod Nano campaign whose cost probably exceeds the GNPs of several small European countries.

In other intrigue, chatter continues about one embattled label head who may not make it to the end of the year because of his failure to turn things around.

Names in the Rumor Mill: Gary Gersh, Jon Landau, Roger Ames, Don Ienner, Johnny Barbis, Don Passman, Jeff Kwatinetz and Lou Pearlman.

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