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DENVER (Billboard) - Rock band Radiohead's decision to release its new album "In Rainbows" by itself -- online, without a record label's help and at any price the user chose -- rocked the industry last fall.
Some hailed it as the beginning of the end for record labels. Other dismissed it as merely a publicity stunt. Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher told Reuters the group would follow such a strategy "over my dead body."
But everyone wants to know: Who's next? The following 10 acts represent where the smart money is on such speculation. Let the games begin.
He's already shown a willingness to distribute music outside traditional label structures by releasing new music on his Web site, via his NPG Music Club and by offering his latest album as a covermount with the Daily Mail newspaper in London. Prince is also staging a massive effort to "gain control of the Internet" by suing the Pirate Bay and forcing independent fan clubs to remove images and other content, suggesting perhaps that he wants all eyes on his site in the future.
After a highly publicized departure from label Interscope and Universal Music Group, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor came right out and declared his intention to release the group's next album from its Web site for $5. He also collaborated with Saul Williams on the "Niggy Tardust" release, which was offered online in a Radiohead-like fashion. This one is money in the bank.
The singer penned a rambling stream-of-consciousness post on her MySpace page admitting her fascination with the Radiohead model and said she would consider something similar in the future. Her latest album, provisionally titled "How Dirty Girls Get Clean," was supposed to be released last year but has yet to appear; Love is also not presently signed to a label.
The techno group's new live set, "Alive 2007," appeared on iTunes a week before it did physical formats, so clearly the act is interested in digital releases. Although still signed to Virgin, Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter told Billboard last summer that he's open to experimenting when free to do so. "What we might be interested to do from an artistic point of view might not have the same agenda as a major label for using physical formats," he said. "Personally, we still buy music, but we hardly buy any physical music. We've definitely changed our habits."
The group left Interscope last fall with no small degree of animosity, and is rumored to be considering a digital-only self-release in partnership with indie digital distributor IRIS. The Texas-based outfit is working on a new album, expected in August.
Chuck D is already releasing his own material and that of Public Enemy under his primarily digitally distributed label SLAMjamz. Expanding his love for Internet releases with the pick-your-price angle of Radiohead's move is just the kind of anti-authority rebellion that he and his crew are known for.
The prolific indie rocker has almost complete control over his work through his label Asthmatic Kitty, and has a proven willingness to do things differently. He even gave away full rights to one of his songs as a prize in a Christmas songwriting contest opened up to all fans. At the rate he puts out material, Stevens may easily decide to just push his songs online as soon as they're done rather than wait for a more traditional model.
The Seattle group already sells live recordings directly to fans through a proprietary Web interface, and has a history of eliminating the middleman to make its work more affordable to fans. With a distribution and payment model already set up for the live material, it would be a simple matter for the group to add studio albums as well. Pearl Jam has the freedom to do it, as it is signed to Sony BMG's J label on a per-album basis, as opposed to a long-term deal.
After ending its deal with V2 in 2005, the electronica duo launched an official online store called the Riverrun Project, which focuses on lengthy one-off tracks bundled with digital photos. The group cited the desire to make new music available immediately, rather than wait years for an album release. Underworld is now signed to ATO imprint Side One Recordings but remains free to sell music via Riverrun whenever it chooses, sources say.
Eleven studio albums in, these synth-pop stalwarts arguably no longer need a major label in their corner. The group, which recorded for Sire since 1981, can still fill arenas and land new tracks on DJ playlists without the support of radio.