The band have proven themselves shrewd businessmen, forming some 20 companies since their inception including LLLP LLP and Random Rubbish Ltd
If you want to get to the heart of Radiohead as they prepare to release their new record, due in June, there is only one place you should go. It is a narrow, royal blue office in central London. Number 41 Great Portland Street to be precise, just a few doors down from the Democratic Republic of the Congos unprepossessing embassy and the showroom of a Danish bathroom tap manufacturer.
It is the offices of Hardwick & Morris, Radioheads accountants.
You will be extremely unlikely to be let into that building. One recent afternoon, two employees outside on a cigarette break refused to say anything about the firm, Radiohead or even the ins and outs of accountancy. Why would you want to know that? one asked. Itd send you to sleep.
But that building is home to two businesses that could not be more important to Radiohead right now: Dawn Chorus Limited Liability Partnership and the appallingly spelled Dawnnchoruss Limited the firms the band have set up over the past six months to apparently deal with all the money the record generates.
Radiohead have, in fact, got many businesses registered at that address ranging from the flippantly named LLLP LLP to the flippantly named Unreliable Ltd. There is even one called Random Rubbish Ltd (it is at the tail end of a voluntary liquidation).
It seems Radiohead are not so much a band as a conglomerate, having the sort of financial structure you would expect to be more associated with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs than bands from Oxfordshire. They have been directors of some 20 companies since they formed, according to Companies House. This is not just interesting for gossip. Radioheads financial structure shines a light on one of the lesser discussed facts of the music industry: if you want to be a great band, it can help if you are as good at finance as you are at music, or at least have a team supporting you who are.
Good business sense is not something that has historically been associated with musicians, hence the multitude of tales of managers exploiting their charges. There was Colonel Tom Parker taking so much from Elvis he earned more than the singer, and David Bowie, who was apparently brought to tears by his one-time manager Tony Defries extravagant spending. Even today, when such merciless managers seem few and far between, the perception is that bands are still being ripped off, if now by Spotify and YouTube.
According to Brian Message of the bands management company, Courtyard Management, Radiohead have still not decided whether to allow their new album to be streamed on Spotify, and their B-sides and rarities recently began disappearing from streaming sites, a move understood to be result from the transferral of their Parlophone albums from Warner Music to XL Recordings.
The story of Radioheads businesses begins in summer 1993 when the band formed Radiohead Ltd to deal with touring income. That firms accounts reveal just how sudden the bands rise was. In its first year, when Radiohead were getting attention due to the single Creep, it had a turnover of just 181,051 ($264,746). After costs, it made a 20 loss.
But following the release of The Bends in 1995 that turnover leapt. It was 735,765 ($1,075,891) the year after the albums release, 2.1m ($3m) after OK Computer appeared in 1997 and almost 8m ($11.7m) after Hail to the Thief in 2003. The bands 11 non-festival gigs this year, starting in Amsterdam in May and including the US in July, will turn over some 4.5m ($6.6m) in ticket sales if you assume venues sell out at advertised prices.
The sudden jump in income seemed to make the band realise they should be managing their affairs better because in May 1996 they set up W.A.S.T.E Products Ltd to produce and sell merchandise such as an ever-expanding range of T-shirts. That may not sound much, but back in the 1990s it was the rock equivalent of Jay Z setting up his own music streaming service.
Radiohead went on to establish Sandbag, a company offering W.A.S.T.Es expertise to others, which in turn got its own warehousing and distribution arm, Quicksand Distribution, and an American subsidiary, Eleventy Five, whose business is uncertain (no one from Radiohead would comment for this piece).
The one business move Radiohead are famous for is In Rainbows the album they self-released after leaving EMI, allowing fans to pay what they wanted for it. It was everything you have read about it: a money-spinner for the band, a critical success and something that scared an entire industry. But it is also what turned Radiohead into the conglomerate they are now. The band set up _Xurbia_Xendless Ltd apparently to deal with that records income and they have formed similar companies for every record since.
Their approach appears more complicated than other British musicians. Indie band the xx, for instance, are directors of just one British-registered company between them. Adele is director of five despite appearing to earn far more than Radiohead one of her firms made 13.8m ($20.2m) profit shortly after she released the album 21. When that dropped to 3.2m ($4.7m) in the next accounting period, its accounts contained a note promising it was nothing to worry about. Even Paul McCartney has only been a director of eight British firms, according to Companies House.
Why would Radiohead do this? Is it because their drummer Phil Selway is a financial whiz who loves signing returns (hes been company secretary on several occasions)? Is it because one of their management team, Brian Message, is a former accountant? Apparently not. It is simply, boringly, because it is sensible.
It makes absolute sense for them to make each project its own separate company, says Filippa Connor, a director of RNF Business Advisory and the only person involved in Radioheads finances who would talk about them, although seemingly only to correct a misunderstanding. In 2013, she liquidated Radiohead Ltd for the band, which she is keen to point out is normal practise. The firm was solvent at the time with some 2m ($2.92m) in assets. Voluntary liquidations are a great way to draw a line under such projects, she says.
Having individual companies also protects them, so if something goes terribly wrong with one business it doesnt bring down the whole edifice, she says. If they had a record that lost money hand over fist, they wouldnt want it to affect everything else. I know thats unlikely for Radiohead, but that doesnt stop it being sensible. It would also protect the band if there were any accidents during a tour, as happened in 2012 before a concert in Toronto when a stage collapse killed the bands drum technician.
I look at their business structure and it doesnt make me say, Oh my gosh, says Ian Mack, who teaches business at the British and Irish Music Institute (BIMM). It just seems the right way to manage their earnings and protect them. Its how most bands of that size operate now.
Does it remove the romance from their music? he asks. Of course not. I dont think financial structures come into any musicians head when they sit down at a piano, lets put it that way. They can split the business side from the creative side. But this is the music business and that second word is important.
That view is shared by Dr Victoria Tischler, a chartered psychologist who specialises in creativity and is an honorary associate professor at the University of Nottingham. She would not recommend Radiohead go back to the breadline if they are ever searching for a creative benefit. Some bands are inspired by their deprived backgrounds, she says. But I tend to agree with the saying that for every talent poverty has stimulated, its blighted a hundred.
You could equally say that the more solid a bands foundations, the more able they are to freely create. If youre struggling to pay the rent youre unlikely to write a hit as youre in survival mode. I suppose whether you think [their finances have] helped them or not really depends on if you like their records. I couldnt possibly comment.
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