As the Guardian reports, Animal Collective will be giving away their next album as a cassette with a pair of "otherwise plain canvas shoes" costing $75 (£45).
Apparently all profits will be going to some kind of eco-charity project, but wouldn't the most environmentally conscious move be to release the album digitally and donate all profits to the Socorro Island Conservation Fund? I suppose they're hoping that releasing music in such a physical (and expensive) way might limit online sharing, but really it punishes hardcore fans who will pay any price for a collector's item while rewarding fair-weather listeners and illegal downloaders who'll just BitTorrent it anyway once the audiophiles have done their worst on the cassette-to-MP3 conversion.
And just to keep things interesting (and pricey), the first pair will be designed by Avey Tare. Yep, in total you can expect Geologist, Panda Bear and Deakin to all put their stamps on "otherwise plain" sneakers in the next few months at a similar price. And of course there'll be kids out there who fork out £188 for the pleasure of owning four pairs of fake-Cons/Vans, four cassettes and a tape player off eBay.
I understand that bands are finding it increasingly difficult to make money from record sales and I totally sympathise, because there's nothing that kills creativity more than keeping musicians on the road for two years solid to pay off their advance. But I don't think gimmicky, over-priced collector's items and limited editions are the answer.
Radiohead's Colin Greenwood recently reflected on this conundrum for the Index on Censorship. Excitement! Radiohead have apparently finished a new group of songs. But it sounds like they'll be coming up with another approach to releasing this album following the pay-what-you-like system they pioneered for In Rainbows three years ago.
Colin himself says: "I buy hardly any CDs now and get my music from many different sources: Spotify, iTunes, blog playlists, podcasts, online streaming - reviewing this makes me realise that my appetite for music now is just as strong as when I was 13, and how dependent I am upon digital delivery."
This pretty neatly sums up the best and worst of the dramatic shift to digital in the land of music consumption. Pro: Music from many different sources means a wider variety of music can be exposed and shared; younger music fans particularly tend to be less preoccupied with genre and more open to new sounds. Pro: Music from many different sources means MORE MUSIC. Yay! Like Colin, I reckon my appetite for music is just as strong as when I was 13. My access to music isn't mediated by a weekly magazine or what my friends listen to (my GOD, that'd be dire) but is a constant stream of suggestions and blips and scrobbles and tweets and interaction that brings me right into the industry, amazingly.
But. The con: "I buy hardly any CDs now." Alright, I know Colin is getting some of his music from iTunes or 7Digital or Bandcamp, but he is also streaming. And so am I, and so are you. Spotify, Myspace, Last.fm, Soundcloud, podcasts... all free, and that's why my appetite is just as voracious as when I was 13. It would be incredible to relive my teenage years with the kind of overwhelming access to music I now have (although perhaps not desirable. So much pressure!), but with everything free and streaming just a few clicks away, where does that leave the artist? On bloody tour, again, that's where.
And not everyone likes Ginster's Steak Slices. Especially not Animal Collective, I reckon.
To be continued...