The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


Suffering from how-Radiohead-have-utterly-changed-the-music-industry fatigue yet? Yeah, me too. Despite this I have one final blog entry relating to the release of 'In Rainbows'. It'll be the last one from me, I swear.

Packet Exchange I wrapped up my 'Radiohead in smooth download shocker' blog entry last week hoping that techie details of how Radiohead delivered the album would be released so that other acts in a similar position could at least go about a similar venture in an informed way. The details I was hoping for? They are at last out.

This weekend some fascinating (well, fascinating to a saddo wanna-be geek like me) information emerged about the infrastructure used to deliver 'In Rainbows' last week. If you downloaded it on its release date you probably saw the MP3s, despite my fears of a meltdown, coming at you really, really fast. To be honest I was baffled at how they managed to do it, but there was no denying they had pulled it off in style. Now we know how.

Cutting to the chase Radiohead - as I hoped - brought in some proper guns to help deliver the album. They tapped the services of PacketExchange, a UK-based company who basically have a global infrastructure in place that allowed Radiohead to (wait for it - we are concentrating aren't we?) bypass the public internet.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this but basically it means that when you clicked on the link to download 'In Rainbows' your request was sent over the internet to Radiohead's server but (still concentrating?) the ZIP file containing the MP3s was not sent back to you via the internet. If it had been sent via the internet the ZIP file would, in order to get to you, have been routed through any number of 'routers' on the public internet that direct traffic to its final destination. In the developed world these routers (imagine them as traffic lights at a junction) are usually quite robust and nifty but they can get 'clogged' with extreme surge events (such as 10s of thousands of fans suddenly trying to simultaneously download a 48 MB ZIP file from a single server). To overcome this potential meltdown-of-part-of-the-public-internet scenario Radiohead did a very smart thing: they bypassed the whole damn internet. As you do, like.

In real terms the full 'journey' of the ZIP file from Radiohead to fans took place on an extremely fast, private global network owned / managed by these PacketExchange guys (see it as a dedicated highway with traffic going in only one direction and with no junctions). Only at the last possible moment (i.e. when the 48MB file was within relative spitting distance of your internet connection) did the ZIP file leave the private network and hop on the internet to complete the last virtual mile of its journey to your PC. Yes, yes, I have simplified it all a bit but, in essence this is what happened. A simple idea, but very, very smart.

It is only now clear to me that what happened last week - very fast, problem free, digital delivery of a brand new album by a major artist to 100s of thousands of fans on a single day without any record company support - was not a once off. There is now no doubt that any established act in a similar contract-free position as Radiohead (stand up Trent Reznor and, er, Oasis) now have no excuses to digitally distribute their future recordings - and to do so competently - with all this knowledge on the table.

May they just tip their hats to Radiohead in recognition of their mother-of-all proof-of-concepts for music downloading. They have turned into reality something that probably started out as nothing more than an idea scribbled on the back of a beer mat.

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Nuggets from our archive

2006 - Review of Neosupervital's debut album, written by Doctor Binokular. The famously compelling review, complete with pie charts that compare the angst of Neosupervital with the angst of the reviewer. As you do.