The Man, The Legend: Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor

I’m not sure how it happened, but a few days into 2012, I decided to step outside my musical comfort zone and listen to something different. I had long predicted that my musical tastes would eventually evolve towards the “Industrial” genre. The only thing I needed was the right band to get me started. That band was Nine Inch Nails (NIN).

Over the past few months, I’ve become quite obsessed with the music of Nine Inch Nails and the work of frontman Trent Reznor. I’ve surmounted a ton of respect over this time. Yes, NIN are perhaps one of the most accessible and “radio-friendly” industrial bands in the genre. But that shouldn’t overlook the band’s work. In fact their popularity and respect among artists and fans around the world should only be attributed to the musical talent of the band.

Michael Trent Reznor was born in the small town of Mercer, Pennsylvania and went by his middle name to avoid confusion with his father of the same name. He started playing the piano at the age of five and that’s really where it all begin. As he got older he became enticed by the edgy and aggressive use of electronic instruments he heard from industrial bands at the time. As a result, Reznor became drawn into the genre and began pursuing his musical career.

I can go on about the history of NIN, but it is far more interesting to share some fascinating facts about the band and why I’ve adored them (really him) so much over the past few months.

Trent – in the studio

Mastermind: Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails. Look it up on Wikipedia. The band consists of one official member only and it’s Trent. He’s the guy who writes all the music, sings all the songs and plays almost every instrument (guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and more) on his records. He’s a singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Pretty amazing if you ask me. While I’m sure Trent would love to play every instrument when performing live, that’s obviously not possible so he plays with a regular supporting band when touring.

Struggle: Although Trent grew up with a positive childhood, like all rock-stars he faced conflict as his musical career took off. Reznor battled depression, social anxiety disorder, and deaths in his family. As a result, he became addicted to alcohol and cocaine. He successfully completed rehab in 2001 and is now in a better place after getting his head “screwed on straight”. In my personal opinion, artists are at their best when they are in an unstable emotional state of mind. Music that stems from anger, sadness, and pain typically bring out the best in an artist both lyrically and musically. You really can feel his pain in some of his songs.

Nine Inch Nails – performing live

Live Shows: If you’ve seen any pictures or video’s of NIN’s live performances, you probably noticed the high production value that goes into NIN’s sets. The band have long been known for their aggressive on stage dynamic and visual design. Although, I haven’t experienced it for myself, I’ve seen enough to be impressed. Trent does not hold back when it comes to putting on a live show. He loves to entertain his fans.

On the Lights in the Sky tour of 2008, NIN produced one of the most technologically ambitious rock productions ever seen. There were over 40 tons of lighting, hundreds of LED lights, an array of sensors, cameras and lasers! “Stealth” screens were used (see picture above) which contained multiple LEDs and would move in front of and on top of the band during their set.  In addition, the visuals for each show on the tour were only 40% pre-rendered with the remaining rendered live on the fly. Oh, and did I mention? Trent put over 400 GB of raw, unedited HD footage from his live shows on the internet for free. The idea behind it? Give his fans something to be excited about for a generous price-tag ($0). That’s how you build a community of loyal and devoted fans.

Lighting Rig for the show

Album Cover – Ghosts I-IV

DIY: Most recently, Trent embarked on a unique approach to adopt the ever changing music industry that is now significantly impacted by the Internet. Trent took on the challenge of distributing music his own way to separate himself from the “broken model” the major record labels continue to stubbornly adopt. “The record business is broken. The model is broken”. A quote from Trent on the music industry. While he argues that large record labels are not the solution, he also argues that going completely independent doesn’t always work either. He tried it himself, and it didn’t work for him. It was too much work and too difficult to gain enough reach to a sizable audience around the world.
In a lengthy but intelligent interview found here, Trent presents more detailed thoughts on the industry. Although he doesn’t offer definitive answers, his insightful recognition of the issue is something that other artists should start picking up on.
In 2008, Reznor followed in the foot-steps of Radiohead and left NIN’s major label and released the album, “Ghosts I-IV” on his own over the internet. There was so much traffic for the new album that the servers crashed. In addition to the digital content he also offered physical media for fans who wanted something tangible. In total, there were four different versions of the release:
  • $5: Digital tracks, the first nine were downloadable for free, and the entire collection of 36 songs cost five dollars
  • $10: For a two-disc CD set
  • $75: A limited edition deluxe package with a hardcover book and Blu-ray disc
  • $300: For an ultra deluxe limited edition package which included vinyl albums and an autograph from Trent

This method of distribution worked great for Reznor. He was able to provide value for different segments of his fan-base while earning a profit. This entrepreneur approach was inspiring for other artists in the industry. However it only works for bands with large followings (like NIN and Radiohead). This approach would not result in the same success for indie bands with smaller followings.

The Social Network – Theatrical Poster

Broad Talent: Aside from producing music for the band, Reznor has recently taken on the challenge of composing film scores with long time collaborator Atticus Ross. Most notably, his work on David Fincher’s “The Social Network” earned him critical acclaim leading to a Golden Globe and Oscar win for his work on the film. Not bad for someone brand new to the world of film composition. Soon after, Reznor worked on Fincher’s, “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” adaptation. Although it didn’t earn an Oscar win, he received positive praise for his work on the film. Fans of NIN, will no doubt see hints of Reznor’s signature musical style when watching these films.
I’ve covered my reasons for appreciating Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Although you may not enjoy his music, I hope I’ve opened your eyes to an amazing artist who’s both respected by his peers in the musical community and adored by his fans. His talent is wide-spread, his story is intriguing and most importantly his passion is strong. These are the reasons why Trent Reznor is a legend.
I leave you with a great live video of Trent and team performing one of my favourite tracks in front of thousands. Enjoy!

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