Trent Reznor and Why OiNK Was ‘The World’s Greatest Music Store’

Looks like NIN’s frontman did his music “stealing” at the same place as the rest of us, but didn’t it actually make better music fans of us all?

Many of us are well aware of just how hip Trent Reznor is in terms of his love for music and how he puts his audience and his attention to the craft above all us – even profits.

It’s been mentioned before how he thought it unsurprising that people steal music after observing “The absurd retail pricing of Year Zero in Australia. No wonder people steal music, ” he said after observing his latest album was selling for a whopping $29.10 US in Australia.

“It’s because we know you have a real core audience that will pay whatever it costs when you put something out – you know, true fans,” was the response by a label rep when Reznor tried to find out why. “It’s the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy.”

He then later he encouraged people to steal his music, even openly admitting that he “steals” music too. “I steal music too, I’m not gonna say I don’t,” he said.

Well, it now seems as though we can say without a doubt that OiNK is where Mr. Reznor “stole” his tunes. It comes as no surprise really, I mean OiNK was like an old Tower Records on steroids, a place where music aficionados and noobs alike rubbed shoulders in search of something exciting to listen to.

As Wired recently observed , it was “…one of the strangest file-sharing services around, with rules both practical and puerile. Like a persnickety record store clerk, Oink’s operators banned low-quality sound files, enforced strict usage rules and mandated that all users’ avatars be ‘cute’ — even taking pains to define exactly what made an avatar appropriately cuddly.” So very true.

I don’t remember the whole cuddly avatar requirement, but encoding quality was regulated with an iron fist And don’t even get me started about share-ratios.

Now there’s an interesting interview that Trent Reznor recently did with New York Magazine in which he mourns the loss of OiNK and what it represented.

“What do you think about OiNK being shut down?” he was asked.

He replies:

I’ll admit I had an account there and frequented it quite often. At the end of the day, what made OiNK a great place was that it was like the world’s greatest record store. Pretty much anything you could ever imagine, it was there, and it was there in the format you wanted. If OiNK cost anything, I would certainly have paid, but there isn’t the equivalent of that in the retail space right now. iTunes kind of feels like Sam Goody to me. I don’t feel cool when I go there. I’m tired of seeing John Mayer’s face pop up. I feel like I’m being hustled when I visit there, and I don’t think their product is that great. DRM, low bit rate, etc. Amazon has potential, but none of them get around the issue of pre-release leaks. And that’s what’s such a difficult puzzle at the moment. If your favorite band in the world has a leaked record out, do you listen to it or do you not listen to it? People on those boards, they’re grateful for the person that uploaded it — they’re the hero. They’re not stealing it because they’re going to make money off of it; they’re stealing it because they love the band. I’m not saying that I think OiNK is morally correct, but I do know that it existed because it filled a void of what people want.

I think he hit the nail on the head. OiNK was a music lovers paradise, the “Pink Palace” in which all its citizens lived a communal life dedicated to the principle of a free flow of unadulterated quality music. It had everything from Richard Cheese to rare Beatles albums like “Live at the Star Club,” to bootleg U2 concert recordings and just about every hip hop album imaginable. It was like the “Breakfast Club” of music that brought together the Jock, the Nerd, the Criminal, the Princess, and the Basketcase. Add to this Deadheads, Parrotheads, Rockers, Rappers, EMOs, and you get an idea of what OiNK was like.

Reznor’s right, I mean record stores, if you can even find one these days, seem to be plastered with displays of the Billboard Top 10 and nothing else. If you’re not into Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Rhianna, Usher, or whatever flavor of the month, you may as well pack up and leave because there’s no mechanism to even listen to or explore new music while your there. OiNK allowed you to do just that – discover new and exciting music.

At the risk of incrimination I freely admit that it’s what made me an avid fan of Zero 7, Bent, Lemon Jelly, and even Royksopp, bands that just don’t seem to be able to get exposure here in the United States using the traditional channels of radio and MTV. Without OiNK I never would’ve had a reason to buy any of their albums or attend any of their concerts. With Zero 7 alone I’ve been to 4 concerts and purchased 2 albums, “When It Falls” and “The Garden.” I ‘ve even bought some of their singer’s solo acts like Sia and Mozez.

In some cases OiNK even allowed users to rediscover music they purchased long ago. I remember being able to find NIN’s “Head Like A Hole” EP a while back. It has 2 dope remixes of songs from the “Pretty Hate Machine” album: “Head Like a Hole(Copper),” and “Down In It(Shred).” I had originally purchased it in high school in like 1990, when the industrial scene was in high gear with bands like The Thrill Kill Kult, Ministry, and Front 242, but somehow it went missing a couple years later when I left home to join the military.

OiNK allowed me to effortlessly find it, crank it up again, and reminisce. It brought back teenage memories of driving around with my friends in my old, green, 66′ Ford Galaxy through the backwater country roads of my small hometown Merced, and made me remember precisely why I became a fan of NIN in the first place – they just made darn good music. It even made me buy a copy of “Year Zero,” though sadly for me it was after Reznor gave his fans a green light to steal it(Thanks a lot Trent.).

Let’s just say that thanks to OiNK over the last 3 years I have listened to, purchased, and gone to the concerts of more music artists then I certainly would’ve otherwise. So I think it’s particularly ironic that organizations like the IFPI and BPI that supposedly care about the health of the music industry and the financial well-being of artists have now succeeded in taking down a site that arguably benefited both of these concerns in their favor. How do they expect us to find new bands and artists when radio has become a homogenized Clear Channel mess, record stores are gone, and no real legal OiNK alternatives exist?

This is precisely why the record industry is dying a slow death. The proverbial gatekeepers of music have now so stifled the natural evolution of music distribution that the whole system is completely out of whack. It’s now either legal or illegal, overpriced or free, difficult or convenient.

In any event, Reznor has reminded me that it’s really all about the music in the end, and that that’s precisely what OiNK was all about – the music.