One week ago Nine Inch Nails surprised their fans with a special treat giving away their new album Slip absolutely free on their website. The album is available for download in a variety of formats: MP3, lossless at CD quality and 24/96 WAVE format, which means even higher-than-CD quality. Downloaders also receive a PDF with artwork and credits. This is not the first time that Trent Reznor is sharing his music for free. Here’s a little history for you.

nine inch nails Nine Inch Nails the ultimate Web 2.0 band

In 2007 NIN produced an album called The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust and made it available to fans as a free download. Many thought that Trent was only mimicking Radiohead who asked fans to put their own price on the group’s release in the same year. Though I believe that by the time you’re finished reading this post, you will see that NIN are true innovators that have achieved quite a lot since being released from their major-label recording contract last year. The fact that NIN has given away music various times in extremely high quality formats and released it online using a variety of tools shows that it is serious about this model. This is not just an “experiment” for them like it was for Radiohead who have since said that they will not be releasing online again.

According to Mashable:

Reznor called Radiohead’s effort a “marketing gimmick,” and Yorke’s latest statement does nothing to disprove it. Reznor did it right. He set out his plan very clearly, and he’s doing well, earning 1.6 million dollars from album sales in the first couple of weeks, according to him.

In March 2008 NIN released a portion of their album Ghosts for free via BitTorrent. According to TorrentFreak, the band confirmed that they had uploaded the album themselves to sites like The Pirate Bay, Waffles.fm and What.cd. The NY Times quotes Trent describing file sharing as “a revolutionary digital distribution method, and we believe in finding ways to utilize new technologies instead of fighting them.” Trent Reznor himself admitted to downloading music using BitTorrent and being a former user of OiNK. The band also offered a digital download of the entire 36-track collection for a flat $5 from its site and Amazon.

On May 4th of this year, NIN released their single ‘Echoplex’ for free via their iLike page and told fans to check the NIN website the next day for a surprise. The surprise came the next day when fans found out they were receiving a full-length NIN album as a gift from Trent for their continued love and support. What an amazing way to cause a buzz and increase the love of fans! Everybody was twitting and digging about the free album.

NIN is truly paving the way for future artists to find new means of distributing (and profiting from) their music. As fadingsignal comments on Digg:

I just wanted to say to those under the impression that more frequent releases could mean less quality, that an artist is typically limited to releasing one album every couple of years mostly due to the surrounding circumstances with a record label. The actual recording process may only take a matter of weeks or months, but everything that happens afterward – the mastering, the artwork, the PR and marketing bullshit, the tour plans, the single/radio release schedule, music video shoots/scheduling – those eat up a lot of time. Trent has really tightened up his audio engineering crew, and with Rob Sheridan now serving as his art director (who I can’t help but also feel is a big influence on Trent where all things Internet are concerned), NIN has become essentially autonomous – they can create and release on their own timeline – the recording industry marketing schedules don’t matter anymore.
Everything surrounding music is changing, and Trent and his crew are definitely at the forefront showing the mainstream how it should be done.

nine inch nails 1 Nine Inch Nails the ultimate Web 2.0 band

Yet other than revolutionizing the way that artists distribute music, I think it is also important to note that NIN is a truly Web 2.0 band that is communicating with its fans using social platforms and proving to everyone that you don’t need a major-label recording company to promote you.

NIN are on Facebook, MySpace, upload their videos to YouTube, upload their images to Flickr, Trent writes posts on the NIN site for his fans and even has a digg this! button on posts. NIN also allows fans to collaborate with them. Take for example the Nine Inch Nails Ghosts Film Festival where they invited anyone and everyone to create visuals to accompany the album’s music. NIN even created Remix.NIN.com, an interactive community for creating, sharing, and listening to NIN remixes.

I believe that NIN has a great advantage over other bands, promoting themselves using Web 2.0 tools and not fighting them. Utilizing them to communicate with their fans, increase their support and create brand awareness while at the same time building their fan base. I think that many artists, as well as brands, can learn a great deal from NIN on how to socially market right and become not only self sustainable, but prosperous.