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Trent Reznor Advises Young Acts on Making It in the Music Industry

Trent Reznor
Sean Gardner, Getty Images

It’s a whole new world out there for young artists looking to catch a break and established artists trying to maintain their momentum, but Trent Reznor says the key to approaching the current music business model is somewhat the same for all musicians.

He tells Techdirt.com, “My advice today, to established acts and new-coming acts, is the same advice I’d give to myself: pause for a minute, and really think about ‘What is your goal? Where do you see yourself?’”

He adds, “As a 22-year-old kid in Cleveland, it seemed to me that just playing out in bars, hoping someone noticed your band, and then offered you a record contract, while that’s possible, I didn’t know anybody, and didn’t know anybody who knew anybody that that had ever happened to. The strategy, then, was let’s work on getting a band, and something that means something, music that matters, music that I feel proud of, and a vibe and name and ‘brand’ of this thing, and then try to reach maybe some small labels that had music in the same vein of what I liked.”

But in today’s music scene, there are many more options for getting your music to listeners, and Reznor says it’s more important than ever to define what your ultimate goal is. He explains, “If I were that person [starting out] today, there’s a hell of a lot of things that didn’t exist then, that exist now — like YouTube, like the ability to self-publish, like the ability to reach everyone in the world from your bedroom if they’re interested. I’d focus my efforts on what seems like a logical way to do that [and] that maintains integrity. If my goal is to compete with Rihanna on the pop charts, I’d think that requires going through a major label system with a powerful manager.”

For Reznor, he says the decision to revisit the major label strategy for his latest project How to Destroy Angels fit a particular goal, one that differs from what he has to do with Nine Inch Nails. He says he was worried that only Nine Inch Nails fans would follow his new project and that it might not fit what they were looking for, so a label provides him the opportunity to reach more people.

He explains, “The main reason I do what I do is I want to do something that matters. I want to be able to create art that reaches the maximum amount of people on my terms … That was a key component … Because it came down to us — us being the band now — sitting around and identifying what our goals were. And the top priority wasn’t to make money. It was to try to reach the most amount of people, and try to reach the most amount of people effectively, that doesn’t feel like it’s coming completely from my backyard. Because I don’t want this project, ultimately, to just be dismissed as a ‘side project’ or … (loud sigh) … a ‘patronizing affair with Trent and his wife.’ Sounds terrible, you know?”

Next: 10 Best Nine Inch Nails Songs

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