BitTorrent helped shepherd Thom Yorke’s surprise new album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes onto the internet on Friday as the service’s first paygated music bundle and a potential new distribution model for artists who want to take control over file-sharing. The company’s Chief Content Officer, Matt Mason, spoke with Fader shortly after the release about how the experiment came to be and what he hopes can come out of it.
According to Mason, the idea of the BitTorrent bundle was inspired by Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want model for In Rainbows. “It’s just been the absolute gold standard for how to do something direct-to-fan on the internet,” Mason said, noting that BitTorrent’s goal was to scale the method so that anybody could publish something in the same way. He was introduced to Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich through Radiohead’s manager, and told them about his bundle idea.
“When we started talking to them this album didn’t exist,” Mason said. “I don’t know if Thom would have made the album anyway, but he wasn’t planning on making a new album when we started talking to them. The idea of releasing something came out of the conversations that we had, which was, for us, incredibly humbling that they believed in this technology to the extent of actually making something especially for it.”
Mason also spoke about the advantage he believes BitTorrent offers over other like-minded distributors offering similar percentages on sales. “Bandcamp’s great, they’ve done a fantastic job and I would never discourage anyone from putting anything on Bandcamp, but the difference between BitTorrent and every other direct-to-fan service is [that] we have a truly global audience that we can put Bundles in front of,” he said, asserting that by reaching 170 million people each month, BitTorrent has a base larger than twice the combined audience of BandCamp, Spotify, Netflix and Hulu. “We have one of the largest user bases in the history of the internet.”
Mason also noted that one of the fundamental advantages artists can gain by selling their work over BitTorrent is access to the data about fans generated by the interaction, including impressions, downloads, stream info and e-mail addresses. “It’s your music, these are your fans, it’s your creative works,” he said. “That information should belong to you as a publisher. It shouldn’t belong to a some middle-man tech company. . . It fundamentally gets to the heart of what the internet is about. A decentralized internet where peer-to-peer is the main way that things travel.”
Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Yorke’s second solo LP, is available now for $6.