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Five Questions with BitTorrent’s Chief Content Guy About Thom Yorke’s Surprise Record

We caught up with Matt Mason, BitTorrent's chief content officer, to see how Thom Yorke's surprise record came to be released on a platform many (inaccurately) associate with piracy.

About two hours ago at the time of this writing, BitTorrent and Thom Yorke foisted a surprise upon us in the form of a new solo record, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (which has been downloaded 34,800 times in that period), from the ever-shimmying (in our minds, at least) musician. The announcement marks the first time that BitTorrent has charged for its Bundle product, a digital distribution platform not reliant on any one server that is well-liked by artists.

Thom Yorke Announces New Album via BitTorrent Bundle

Billboard jumped on the phone with Matt Mason, BitTorrent’s chief content officer, to get a clearer picture of the project, which had been in the works for the better part of a year.

How’d today’s ‘little’ coup start?
Matt Mason: The first person we talked to was Thom’s manager Brian Message and Chris Hufford. He and Brian introduced me to Nigel Godrich, and I had a really good conversation with him on Christmas Eve in 2013 in a studio in London, about understanding their philosophy a bit better. We [BitTorrent] were inspired by In Rainbows, that was the spark behind Bundles. ‘How do we scale something like that?’ The more we talked to Nigel, the more we fleshed out the philosophy.

How was it working with Thom and Co.?
They’ve always been very open and experimental — what I love about working with them is they think about how what they do will affect every other musician, how to create a sustainable ecosystem for all artists. The mediums they use are always a message.

People pay attention when Thom Yorke sneezes — but what about up-and-comers?
The platform has been working for up-and-comers for over a year now. This represents our first gated, paid Bundle. We launched it [the Bundle product] with Kaskade in 2013, and we’ve had 120 million downloads to date. If they were gated previously, it was an email gate.

We’ve seen them work for artists of all shapes and sizes — authors, filmmakers. The thing that we can offer in terms of discovery is putting it in front of 170 million users a month. 40 million of those use BitTorrent every day. This is a very engaged audience.

One of the first big experiments we did was with an artist called Pretty Lights back in 2012 — they had about 5,000 followers on Facebook at the time. We released G-Eazy, who was a hit on the iTunes chart the week after releasing his Bundle.

Obviously we wanted to make a big statement today with this first pay gated Bundle. As you say, people pay attention to what they do, but we think every one can benefit from this platform.

How’d you keep it under wraps?
Any project like this, we work with big artists and filmmakers all the time — so far nothing’s ever leaked from BitTorrent. I think it’s really about the people you work with. Invariably everyone at the company knew this was happening, and nobody said anything.

What about companies like Spotify instituting paid window?
Why not? We certainly think it’s a good idea — why don’t artists sell directly to their fans? It’s been a really weird year in the music industry. The majors seem like they’ve absolutely given up on the idea of selling people music. There’s no clear path for new artists. The biggest album of the year is the Frozen soundtrack. The most innovative thing you’ve seen is Apple releasing a tool to remove an album. There’s nothing good happening out here.

We think they should be able to earn a fair wage from their work.