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Free pays off for NIN

April 10, 2009

nin1Ever since Nine Inch Nails ended their contract with Universal Music Group’s Interscope label about a year and a half ago, the band has completely transformed the way they distribute their music, and themselves.

With the freedom to not answer to executives, Trent Reznor has developed a new fan-centered business model that couldn’t be more at odds with the traditional, and struggling, music industry. In an interview with Underwire, Reznor bluntly states, “they have built a business around selling plastic discs, and nobody wants plastic discs any more.”

So, what do people want? That is what Reznor and the other members of NIN have been exploring for the past 18 months. They discovered that the fans wanted more access to the band and its music. In short, they wanted a relationship.

As a result, NIN has embraced free music distribution, fan remixes, and multiple outlets into social media and has largely succeeded in better connecting with fans.

NIN largely used standard Web sites to reach out to the fans to include YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Blogger, and FeedBurner. The benefit of these applications was two-fold: People were already using them and they can be maintained at little to no cost. The band then turned NIN.com into a one-stop shop for fans to find tour dates, photos, music, and videos.

And, coming this week they are further reaching out to fans with a new tool.

Pending approval from Apple, NIN is releasing a free app for the iPhone that is essentially a mobile portal into all things NIN, to include music, photos, videos, message boards, and even the fans themselves. The app will feature a GPS-enabled program called Nearby which “is kind of like Twitter within the Nine inch Nails Network,” according to Rob Sheridan. On Nearby you can post a photo or write a message by location, and people at a show can see the conversations between the other people who are also there.*

The relationships NIN is focusing on building and strengthening with its fans will continue to pay off in spades. The more loyal fans are the more likely they are to buy your album, even though you are giving it away for free (The Slip was a free album that sold almost 250,000 CDs). The more loyal fans are the more they will travel and pay to see you live in concert. And that’s where the money really is in the music industry. Artists don’t get rich off record sales, they make their money through touring.

Last Halloween I saw NIN in Nashville, and the mix of fans was far greater than I would have expected. There were kids that probably weren’t even born when the band was formed (yes, 20 years ago), and those who were now easily in their 60s all crammed onto the floor of the Sommet center together.

NIN clearly recognizes the fact that they are attracting multiple generations of fans, and as such they are continuously experimenting with a variety of tools to make sure they create long-lasting relationships with as many as they possibly can. Because, after all, a loyal fan is the best kind to have.

* Check out Underwire’s article on NIN

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