Radiohead manager to tell Abu Dhabi how to strike a chord commercially

Media Summit special: Radiohead's manager will deliver a message for the music world at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead - the band's policy of letting fans set their own price for albums created a stir in the music industry. John Shearer/Getty Images/AFP
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Here's our new record, pay what you like … Radiohead turned the music industry on its head with its online release. The band's manager is here to tell all about it, Rory Jones writes

Radiohead has a message for the modern recording industry: all the old rules are off.

Brian Message, the band's co-manager, will spell that out clearly tonight at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Mr Message, a pioneer of selling music in the digital age, has helped to orchestrate the band's unusual approach to sales.

Given the widespread piracy problem in the Middle East and relative lack of copyright enforcement, regional music executives will gain important insights from what he has to say.

Radiohead's 2007 album In Rainbows caused a global stir after it was released as a digital download, with the price to be determined by the buyer.

Mr Message will help start the media summit with a presentation on the music industry globally and in the Middle East, and explain the merits of Radiohead's unique business model.

In Rainbows marked one of the world's biggest bands opting out of the traditional record label system, where companies own the copyright to music and take home much of the profits.

A month after the album was released, a survey suggested 62 per cent of those downloading the album chose to pay nothing for it. But the band is expected to make more money from it than any of their previous albums.

Radiohead has taken a different approach with its latest album, The King of Limbs. It is immediately available as a download for £6 (Dh35.59), or for £30 in its physical form, which comprises two clear 10-inch vinyl records, a CD, a digital download and several pieces of artwork.

The band's business is all about building a brand, says Hussain "Spek" Yoosuf, the managing director of Fairwood Music Arabia, which represents the publishing rights of Universal Music Publishing and EMI Music Publishing in the UAE.

"People want to experience music in different ways," Mr Yoosuf says. "Some people like the physical experience of buying tangible objects and Radiohead's new album provides that."

The Arab and Indian music industries have always been about a brand, rather than just sales of music, he says.

But the scourge of piracy in Asia has led its artists to move into films and concerts for the wealthy as sources of revenue.

"The western world is following this eastern trend towards building an overall brand," Mr Yoosuf says.

"Radiohead could afford to offer In Rainbows at any price because they had spent years building their brand."