It’s been a visually stimulating week for Radiohead fans (I say this as one of the visually stimulated). The band this weekend premiered the last of its new batch of official videos for its In Rainbows album — videos that are actually fan-produced and selected from a worldwide competition.
Radiohead grabbed a lot of headlines last year by releasing In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-want (even if that meant you took it for free) download. By erasing the line between music production and music distribution, the band prompted everyone from industry executives to has-been rockers to wring their hands and wax poetic about an inevitable music-industry death spiral.
Whether it’s a groundbreaking album or a brash business decision, the members of Radiohead always seem to be bending, blurring and breaking. They’re not always the first band to push boundaries in a particular direction, but they are typically the most influential.
The production of these newly released videos are the latest example of how attune Radiohead is with the Web 2.0 spirit of taking down artificial barriers to make room for creative communities to thrive. Earlier this year, Radiohead broke down some In Rainbows tracks into “stems” – separated tracks of voice, guitar, bass, strings/FX and drums — for fans to remix and post for votes.
In this video competition — conducted in conjunction with the independent animation network aniBoom and TBD Records, and promoted on Adult Swim and MySpace — fans helped determine finalists by voting on one-minute video submissions. AniBoom says it received more than 1,000 entries that represented more than 150 cities in 40 countries. Radiohead originally sought just one winner, but in August announced four instead. Talking some syntactic cues from Yoda (for unknown reasons), lead singer Thom Yorke said at the time: “The aniBoom video competition, totally blown me away it has. We are proud that In Rainbows songs were the source of inspiration for so many amazing creations.”
Each creative team received $10,000 to produce the full-length video. MySpace Music previously premiered the final product for “Reckoner,” my favorite track off of the album, and over the past week, the full-length videos for “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” “15 Step” and “Videotape” were released. Envisioned and executed in France, the United States, Japan and Germany, these winning entries reflected Radiohead’s international fan base.
I really dig the Japanese-animation style of the “15 Step” video. And while I thought the other three were more innovative, I wasn’t immediately enamored of them — they’re probably acquired tastes, like natto maki or something. But whether I aesthetically like the videos doesn’t really matter, because it’s how they were seeded and grown that makes them so interesting to me.
YouTube helped music fans wanting to consume videos to bypass MTV. Perhaps by blurring the line between “official” and “fan-produced”— and the line between music consumer and music creator — Radiohead is helping to train fans see past the band itself when looking for creative inspiration.