Trent Reznor: And Then I Realized, I Needed My Major Label Back…

Grizzly Bear thinks they need traditional radio to break big. And only a major label can really deliver that, at least right now.  Meanwhile, even major label refugees like Trent Reznor are crawling back to the machine.  Here’s the moment when Reznor realized that his post-major, DIY audience was ultimately insular and limiting.  He recently inked a deal with Columbia (Sony Music Entertainment).

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“In the last tour, we’re playing Prague, we’re walking around and playing that night at Prague.  But I see flyers up for Radiohead playing the same place we’re playing, but six months from now.  And I walk into the record shop, and there isn’t a section that says Nine Inch Nails.  And there’s no kind of presence that we’re even there.

“And I start to realize, the last few years all we’ve done… you know Mr. Twitter Bigshot with my bunch of followers right, but it’s preaching to that choir of people that are important, but it’s that camp.  The world’s become so fragmented, you can tune into what you like, and a lot of things don’t break though that, or cross over.

“And we’re literally putting our records out on our own, and not using the labels.  And I don’t know what the cool record shop in Prague is, and I don’t know the good blog that comes out of there that I can give some attention to.  And I don’t really want to do that, but there’s a part of me that can’t stop, so I get obsessed and I start thinking about marketing and I think, ‘there’s other people I can hire that can market this stuff, but no one else can write the songs I can write.’

“The great part of self-releasing has been controlling your own destiny.  Nobody having any approval.  Finishing a song at midnight and putting it out the next day.  Getting fans excited with no leak, because you have the only copy, and you uploaded it and you hit publish.  And wow, that’s fun, it felt great particularly after a long career in the weirdness of labels.

“But to answer your question, it was to have a team of people that are better at that than I am, worldwide.  That felt like it was worth slicing the pie up, monetarily, but our main agenda of the moment was to make people aware of it in the right context versus a little more money we might or might not make.  And that’s what it came down to, and so far, it’s been pleasantly pleasant, actually having people that know what they’re talking about and having a team, that’s nice.”

Reznor, speaking recently to David Byrne in Los Angeles.

52 Responses

    • Visitor

      hahahahahahaha… so much for your poster boy and all the “labels are evil” nonsense… this pretty much puts and end to that… carry on…

  1. Jaded Industry Dude

    Wow, looks like this is The Beginning of the End for Mr. Self Destruct himself. But I guess he wasn’t the Only person to ever Bite the Hand That Feeds while being Down In It. One might even say he had a Head Like A Hole about the God Given Terrible Lie.

    Oh well, all I Wish for is that he doesn’t Give Up after being Somewhat Damaged by the DIY World That Went Away.

    Honestly, guys, I’m just going to stop. I could go on forever.

  2. Antoine

    Maybe there were no posters up on Prague because no one gives a turd about NIN. I heard they were relevant circa early 90s. Going back to the major label means NIN couldn’t hack it alone. Again because nobody who is anyone cares.

    • squint

      Yeah because there are so many other artists releasing better music than NIN.

    • Karm

      That’s pretty much it. Trent and NIN still gets plenty of ink on the major blogs, websites, and magazines.
      Unlike Radiohead I stopped paying attention to his music years ago because it was increasingly not good (imo). His being on a major or not won’t change that reality for me.

      • Ok But...

        That’s great that you don’t like NIN and do like Radiohead (I like both, but neither obsessively at this point)… BUT I think Trent’s point is valid. He’s used to having a marketing team, and wasn’t interested in creating his own when he was DIY, and would prefer to let the label do it for him. He wants to be huge in Prague, and noticed that he was when he had a label and isn’t now without a label. Problem -> Solution. Pretty basic sound logic in my opinion.

        FURTHERMORE, RADIOHEAD RELEASED ONE ALBUM FOR FREE AND THEN THEY ALSO WENT BACK TO THE LABEL MACHINE. So honestly, Trent stuck it out with DIY a lot longer than Radiohead did. So why does he deserve less respect? Just because you happen to not enjoy his music as much?

      • Econ

        Exactly. We’ll hear Reznor whining about Sony not promoting his “latest release” for more than 2 weeks next – the typical album teaser 2 weeks before release and then after the choir he’s preaching to downloads the album on day-of-release Sony will have already moved on to something else by then. Maybe if he’s lucky Sony will use a track in an upcoming by-the-numbers sci-fi/action flick that plays for two weeks before being forgotten.

    • R.P.

      Not neccasarily but I get how you can say that given the example used here, although they wouldn’t be the best example.
      Marketing and distribution takes consistent work on a daily basis. No days off and no set amount of hours. Fact of the matte is, like many athletes, musicians are on the path they are on because they don’t want to do any manual or tediously redundant work.
      In the end, marketing and distribution is intricately tedious and extremely detailed work that cannot be overlooked or let up on for any moment of time. The advantage the labels have over an independent artist that is Doing It Themselves is staffing. Which comes down to operating capital. I would also say structure but dealing with a lot of these majors on a daily basis I can’t honestly say they have much of that going on themselves.

  3. Satan

    Welcome back!
    So Trent you want to be pampered like a rockstar and not spend all of your time being a DIY working class hero?
    I understand.
    Let my lawyers work it out with yours and you’ll get the money for nothing and the chicks for free

    • lifer

      …he went down to the crossroads tryin to flag a ride…

      written while listening to Blueneck on vinyl

  4. fluff

    Wow Trent, you realized not being on a label involves actually making a plan and building a team yourself, and like a true chump, you couldn’t handle it. Then, instead of pointing the finger at yourself, you go ahead and try to excuse your childish failures by putting down responsible artists that are successful and doing it without a label; classy. Real nice work. Maybe part of the reason Radiohead was everywhere is because they sell better than your music. You looked at DIY as the new chic thing to do as opposed to the new music business model. I guess the extra cash, personal fan connections and musical freedom gained through independence wasn’t attractive enough to offset your lazy, primpy attitude. I thought you were better than that Trent, oh well, there are many others who are the role models of the new industry and don’t need a corporate push with both hands in their pockets to maintain a following…

    • person A

      Could you point out to me where Trent ‘put down’ Radiohead? He seemed more jealous than anything because they had the clout from BEING ON A MAJOR LABEL – since when are Radiohead independent???

  5. OK then

    So, Trent Reznor just admitted that Twitter has no effect on live performances’ promotion in that specific territory.
    And now you know who’s interview to quote, next time some “digital music guru” tells you that you “need” a million followers on Twitter to make it in your European country.

  6. David B

    Doesn’t anyone here know the difference between a recording deal and a distribution deal?
    It’s pretty clear that Reznor is talking about the latter. He makes a record, with full artistic control, and using his own financing, then he gives a major label (Sony, in this case) an exclusive license to distribute it. Depending on the details of the contract, the label may or may not pay for promotion of the record, and Reznor may get either a lump sum payment or a share of profits. Either way, it is very different from a traditional recording deal, where label finances the recording process, the artist gets an advance payment, repayable out of royalties, and the label takes the majority of any profits above the level of the advance. With a distribution deal the artist would typically get at least 50% of the proceeds. Many independent artists have arrangements of this kind. E.g. Imogen Heap has her own record label, Megaphonic, and finances her own recordings, but they are distributed worldwide by Sony. It is a sensible arrangement, and is hardly ‘crawling back to the machine’.

    • Seth Keller

      Does anyone know if this was a straight distro deal?
      I ask because:

      1. All the articles I read about his return to the major system quoted him as saying signing with A&R vet Mark Williams (who was at Interscope previously) was a major factor in his decision. The A&R involvement may only be for his other band-HTDA-but that hasn’t been made clear.

      2. The biggest reason for his return seems to be his interest in marketing and promotion muscle. Majors certainly provide marketing services for fees to distributed labels, but the majority of the actual muscle goes to the artists signed directly to the labels–not to the distributed labels–because the major stands to make more profit from a successful artist that’s signed to it directly.
      3. The biggest advantage majors have over indies and DIYers who hire their own marketing and promotion teams is commercial radio promotion. Some are speculating that his decision was based on wanting to get back on the radio with his new material, and he felt a major gave him the best chance to do that (although at Rock, Active and Alternative in the US it’s been proven that you can chart pretty high with the right indie label and radio promoter).

      If he wanted major distribution and marketing prowess in each market, he could have done what his example, Radiohead, did–do territory specific deals with labels. But he didn’t do that. Why not?

      If anyone has the real story behind his decision and what his actual deal is, I’d love to hear it.

      • Sunshine n' Rain

        2. The biggest reason for his return seems to be his interest in marketing and promotion muscle. Majors certainly provide marketing services for fees to distributed labels, but the majority of the actual muscle goes to the artists signed directly to the labels–not to the distributed labels–because the major stands to make more profit from a successful artist that’s signed to it directly.
        Right. If you want posters in Prague and all the promotion for the venue that’s not a straight distro I-pay-you-x-dollars-you-promote-service. It’s you-take-a-slice type deal, maybe not exactly like the old days but no one is just doing a NIN deal for nostalgia esp. with the financial situation the way it is in post-apocalypse 2012.

    • Visitor

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  7. Nasa

    If you’re at all surprised by his reasoning you are either not an indie artist, don’t know any indie artists personally or are a clueless indie artist.

    Whether or not you or I think this is the right choice, wrong choice or just a tough choice….it’s the reality of what’s on the ground.

  8. Visitor

    The problem has been the musicians themselves if they had been smart they would have created a coopertive and banded together to deal with marketing ,publicity,promotion ect keeping the cost down but establishing themselves in the market place.
    Pooling resources and finding the best people new or old to the record/music business there are alot of us oot there who have broken acts and records for years.
    In the 90’s Bonnie Raitt was having her greatest success and she was on tour in California and Oregon and we couldn’t find her record in any store we called the label and do you think they did anything about it?

  9. Sonny

    So what would a “SMART” Indy artist do? What’s the smartest way to distribute, and get noticed these days?

  10. Vinny

    Something tells me you need to replace the “I” and “me” in this article with “my management team”.
    It’s THEY who are being lazy and not handling the outsourcing of marketing/distro.
    Trent writes, records, tours, and Tweets. That’s about it.
    Sounds like his management company couldn’t handle acting as the label too.
    Can’t blame ’em, but let’s be real here.

  11. Mixolydia

    This appears to be excerpted (is that a word?) from a longer interview. Does anyone know where i can read the full story? Thanks in advance!

  12. led DOWN!

    Also…. he is not trying to “get back to the ninties”. This has nothing to do with NIN, but the new project How to Destroy Angels. But you know, people love to hate… because I’m sure when their indie band was offered a distro deal, they kept it REAL! And then went back to being a barista.

  13. Oncoming Storm

    It seems pretty simple to me. NIN has name recognition and a built-in fanbase. He had the latitude to experiment with DIY distro because he didn’t have to build the reputation. HTDA is a new group and he’s starting from scratch (and, BTW, has a wife and kids now), and he realized that it simply wasn’t worth the time and effort he’d spend doing marketing and promotion necessary for a new group to break through when he could basically pay another company to do it better, bigger, and longer. He is exchanging a cut of future profits for services rendered, and he’s found someone that will do it without meddling in the thing HE does best, which is create and perform music. It’s the same thing we all do when we mess with our cars for a while, find a problem above our pay grade, and just take the damn thing to a mechanic rather than blow our whole weekend working on the transmission and likely not doing it right.

  14. Broo Radleigh

    You can choose a life in music or you can choose a life in marketing.

    • Elvis

      No, you can choose a life in music and hire out or partner with your marketing.

      • OldCoot

        Spoken like a true armchair rockstar. Most barista/waiter/guitar-center-employees do not have the huge bankroll that “hiring out” the marketing takes to be successful. For the last decade I’ve been hearing the same half dozen or dozen names bandied about as “proof” this new D.I.Y./indie movement was the way to go. Nevermind that most of them got a huge kick-start from a major label. Suddenly everyone with access to the internet, a crappy microphone & a computer was churning out “the next big thing.” Only 99% of the things that actually got big were still a result of a major label. Or maybe a very, very big indie label such as Roadrunner.
        Until you have made your record & supported a family in something beyond poverty level don’t tell me how to do it. Truly, the only ones really making it big from the D.I.Y. movements are the ones selling “How To Succeed in the D.I.Y. Music Buisiness” books, seminars, & subscription websites. None of them have actually done it. Oh well… we all need some kind of fairy tale to believe in, I guess.

  15. Elvis

    Trent saw the reality. Its not about money, its about reaching as many people as possible. He’ll make less or the same $$ but reach further by hiring or partnering with(essentially) the pros. Do what your good at. Hire the rest out. Its something indie artists suck at. Then they bitch and yell at Trent Reznor.

  16. danwriter

    << I think Trent's point is valid. He's used to having a marketing team, and wasn't interested in creating his own when he was DIY, and would prefer to let the label do it for him.>>

    It’s one thing for a legacy artist to return to the major-label fold. He knows qhat to expect (including indecipherable accounting statements). For DIY artists who have achieved some measure of success, entering this realm is a different story.

  17. @EdRivadavia

    Still think artists will live without record labels one day? Give it up…someone has to do the work.

  18. sardhouse

    digital is the NEW CAGE. the power can control your movement much better. THE WORLD IS OUTSIDE!!! ending… Digital isn’t THE answer.. it’s a cr@ppy cheap medium and Notebook dj are so stupid… VINYL RULE

  19. Igor Adrianov

    I am new on your website. I found very useful information. Thanks!

  20. Hmm

    Hmm, Im live in Prague, and I didnt event know, that GB will play in my city. Thats sad :/

  21. LostInDigital

    “having people that know what they’re talking about”
    this is the funniest part of the interview…

  22. ehowders

    This has definitely given me a new perspective on major labels…is anyone else in love with Trent’s new project How to Destroy Angels?
    Here’s a sweet remix of “Keep it Together”:

  23. Martino

    This year I planed a nice trip in Europe after I will move in my new beautiful property in Horseshoe Bay Realty. I will be back with details.

  24. Marellbo

    Prague has been a political, cultural, and economic centre of central Europe with waxing and waning fortunes during its 1,100-year existence. If you visit Prague, try the food. You will never regret.

    • Norellia

      Too bad that Prague does not have beaches… it has jist Vltava river, King Vladislaus II had the first bridge built in 1170, the Judith Bridge (Juditin most), named in honor of his wife Judith of Thuringia.

  25. Levis

    We celebrate 5 years of rights. In July of 2008 the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was signed into law, creating a new robust education benefits program rivaling the WWII Era GI Bill of Rights.