11082726 | Jeremy Hannaford

Nine Inch Nails | Year Zero (Nothing / Interscope Records)

Nine Inch Nails Year Zero Album Cover

Project Background |

‘Year Zero’ was the fifth studio album released by Nine Inch Nails. The songs on ‘Year Zero’ were written by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor, while on tour for the bands previous release ‘With Teeth’. Reznor’s lyrics were based on a hypothetical, dystopian world, fifteen years in the future. The narrative nature of the lyrics led to the work becoming a cross platform concept album with extensive interactive potential;

‘it really felt like a larger thing’ (Trent Reznor Year Zero Interview, 2007)

Trent Reznor Year Zero Interview |

‘Year Zero’ was to become an extensive multimedia project. The project utilised multiple media platforms including, video, USB drives, multiple websites, blogs, phones, and phone messages to deliver a prolific alternate reality game that culminated in an intimate live performance (Gundersen, 2007).

Project Details |

Trent Reznor engaged the services of 42 Entertainment to create an intricate alternate reality game that Nine Inch Nails fans unknowingly found themselves interacting with. (Reznor, 2009)

The ‘Year Zero’ narrative began to unfold to its audience in February 2007. Nine Inch Nails tour posters and T-shirts had letters highlighted amongst words which spelled; ‘i am trying to believe’.

Tour T-Shirt |

i am trying to believe t-shirt

These five words were a clue leading fans to the website: I Am Trying To Believe. This website was to form part of an eventual network of at least 81 individual websites (The Nine Inch Nails Wiki, 2007), not including blogs, forums and chat rooms.

The content of the websites varied greatly, some of the pages would contain puzzles, images, track names and even tracks while other websites would unveil parts of ‘Year Zero’s’ dystopian narrative, set in 2022. They portrayed a world where Americans were experiencing side effects after being exposed to multiple drugs by the government (Hall, p76).

During live performances in Europe several USB drives were handed out to different crowds. The USB drives would contain various material leading the participants into the alternate reality game. Some would contain tracks from the upcoming album and others versions of ‘Year Zero’s’ first single ‘Survivalism’s’ music video. At one point during the clip ‘/0024’ flashed on the screen. This was a clue leading to the page which contained album art.

The ‘leaked’ tracks on the USB drives soon found their way onto the Internet. Eager fans soon discovered that morse code and static contained in the music would lead them further into the alternate reality game. Static found on one USB drive, when analysed with a spectrogram, revealed a phone number which in turn led the audience to another game related website: United States Wiretap. Static from another leaked track, when anaylsed under a spectrogram, revealed an image of something known in the game as ‘The Presence’. The same image formed part of the album cover.

Spectograph revealing ‘The Presence’ |

‘The Presence’ would also appear in a ‘Yero Zero’ teaser trailer.

Year Zero Teaser Trailer |

Other in game clues directed participants to a forum for a fictional group known as Open Source Resistance. The Open Source Resistance forum invited participants to upload content, including images, text and music.

User generated content can be viewed here: User generated content.

There was also the opportunity for participants to join an Open Source Resistance mailing list. Some who joined the mailing list soon received an email, apparently from an Open Source Resistance leader. The email contained the text;

‘Lastly, a few of us are talking about organizing a meeting here in LA.  If you’re interested, show up at the Melrose location at or a little after 7 pm on this Friday evening (April 13th). Wear something that shows you’re one of us. Stand under the big pig and follow the revolver across the street to the van. Knock twice. When you’ve got the stuff, get out of there fast.

Don’t attract attention. Don’t be followed.’ (The Nine Inch Nails Wiki, 2009 1).

Those who attended the meeting received ‘resistance kits’. On the 18th of April mobile phones from the kits would ring, arranging the participants in a parking lot. They were soon collected and taken to an Open Source Resistance meeting. The meeting eventually turned into an intimate Nine Inch Nails gig which was then broken up by a fictional SWAT team. (The Nine Inch Nails Wiki, 2009 2)

Open Source Resistance Meeting, 18 April 2007 |

An account by one of the alternate reality game players can be found here: Eye witness account.

A full account of the development of the ‘Year Zero’ alternate reality game can be found here:

Creative Commons Licensing |

To avoid legal implications regarding the distribution of Nine Inch Nails material Trent Reznor arranged for all the licensing of the tracks to belong to him. (Reznor 2007). The tracks released for the ‘Year Zero’ project were done so under a Creative Commons licence. This would allow ‘the material to be copied, distributed and reused… as long as the original creator/s [were] credited (Creative Commons, 2011).

Remix Album |

In 2006 it was forecast that next generation media would be be reliant on a uniform cross media platform which would allow the integration of passive broadcast and user interaction (Natkin, pg xvii). Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Year Zero’ project was able to achieve this through online forums where fans were able to download, remix and share tracks from the album.

‘With users being interactive participants in both the consumption and creation of digital experiences, stories have enormous scope to become structurally unique’ (Leung, p36)

Allowing the audience to generate content would essentially allow ‘Year Zero’s’ narrative to develop independently of Nine Inch Nails’ influence.

Multi track tracks from ‘Year Zero’ are still available: Nine Inc Nails Year Zero .

Other artists remixed tracks from ‘Year Zero’. These tracks were than collaborated onto a remix album; ‘Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D’, released in November 2007.

Year Zero Remixed Album Cover |

Following on from the ‘Year Zero’ project Nine Inch Nails have continued to make their tracks available for download as multi track torrents. Nine Inch Nails fans are able to download, remix and upload there tracks to the Nine Inch Nails website. It is even possible to download and remix tracks from Trent Reznor’s Academy Award winning soundtrack to, the 2010 film, ‘The Social Network’.

Official Nine Inch Nails remix site: Remix.NIN

A similar remix page has also been created by Nine Inch Nails fans. This page demonstrates that audiences are becoming increasingly able to be involved in the development of media narratives.

Fan made remix site:

Artistic/ Historical Context |

Nine Inch Nails first album was released in 1989, 18 years before the release of the Year Zero project. As the band evolved so too did modern technologies, allowing for the delivery of such a diverse multi-platform narrative.

‘…between 1990 and the present broadband Internet, social media and mobile technology changed the landscape in a not so subtle way and old school media creative thinking is not relevant anymore in this altered landscape’ (Hayes, 2011).

Increasing speeds and a changing media landscape have dramatically changed the way in which audiences interact with media;

‘Casual Internet users have evolved and do not want to just browse for information; they want to project themselves, get connected to others, and interact or collaborate.’ (Deans, pg 2)

As modern technologies developed album sales saw a steady decline. In 2005 37% of CD’s purchased were pirated and in 2006 it was predicted that digital music sales including, ringtones, music videos, single tracks and album downloads would account for 25% of music sales by 2010. (Martin, N & Rice, p 423)

Declining album sales were not too much of a concern for Nine Inch Nails who had already achieved great success. Prior to it’s release ‘Year Zero’ album sale predictions were above 300 000. (Gundersen, 2007)

Multi-platform media works had arisen, not only due to a decline in traditional media intake, but also due to ‘fragmented’ audiences, changing business models, interaction and social needs shifting and perhaps most importantly the potential that multi-platform media technologies bring to a narrative. (Hayes, 2011)

It is evident that Trent Reznor was aware of changing audience tendencies. During the development of ‘Year Zero, a source close to Reznor was quoted as saying;

‘It’s not about slapping something on top of an existing experience… It must be its own entity. Make the experience as immersive as possible for fans.’ (Unknown, Paoletta, 2007)

The Project Continues |

Nine Inch Nails’ 2007 concept album ‘Year Zero’ is a sound and interactive media work developed to both combat and utilise the changing landscape of the media industries, while delivering a powerful narrative.

Creative thinking, developments in technology, changing audience trends and lenient licensing have allowed ‘Year Zero’ to develop into a successful project with an immense scope, which is continuing to grow. In march 2011, Trent Reznor wrote on a blog ‘we’re still fully engaged with the Year Zero mini-series, writing away.’ (Reznor, 2011)

The Nine Inch Nails project can be seen as a natural artistic response to the evolution of the media industries brought about through rapidly changing media technologies and platforms.

Links |

42 Entertainment: The company that helped develop and deliver the extensive alternate reality game

Creative Commons: Copyright licensing that allows extensive user interaction

Nine Inch Nails Official Website: The official Nine Inch Nails website

Nine Inch Nails Wiki: The official Nine Inch Nails wiki.

References |

Creative Commons, 2011, website, accessed April 12, 2011, URL:

DEANS, C, 2008, Social Software Trends in and Web 2.0 Technology Trends, IGI Global

GUNDERSEN, E, P 2007, ‘Nine Inch Nails ‘Zero’ in on bleak future’, USA Today, 18 April 2007, accessed 09 April 2011, URL:

HALL, A, “I am Trying to Believe”: Dystopia as Utopia in the Year Zero Alternate Reality Game,
Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture. 2009; 3 (1), p. 69-82

Hayes, G, 2011, Personalise Media, ‘Navigating the World of Multi Platform and Trans Media Rituals’, 25 March 2011, weblog, accessed 09 April 2011, URL: hhtp://–Traditional-Media-vs-MultiPlatfrom-Wheres-the-engagement

LEUNG, L, 2008, Digital Experience Design : Ideas, Industries, Interaction, Intellect Ltd.

MARTIN, N & RICE, J 2010, Strategic Management: A Dynamic Perspective: Concepts and Cases, Pearson Education, Frenchs Forest, N.S.W

NATKIN, E, 2006, Video Games and Interactive Media : A Glimpse at New Digital Entertainment, A K Peters Limited

Nine Inch Nails Wiki, ‘Category:World of Year Zero’, 18 Febuary 2007, accessed April 9 2011, URL:

Nine Inch Nails Wiki, ‘Open Source Resistance’, 03 December 2009, accessed April 9 2011, URL: 1

Nine Inch Nails Wiki, ‘Timeline of the Year Zero Discovery’, 03 December 2009, accessed April 9 2011, URL: 2

PAOLETTA, M 30 March 2007. ‘Online Odyssey Stoking Interest In New NIN Album’. , accessed April 10 2011, URL:

REZNOR, T, 2007, Nine Inch Blog and Media Archive, weblog, accessed 11 April 2007, URL:

REZNOR, T, 2009, Nine Inch Blog and Media Archive, weblog, accessed 11 April 2007, URL:

REZNOR, T, 2011, Nine Inch Blog and Media Archive, weblog, accessed 11 April 2007, URL:

‘Trent Reznor Year Zero Interview’, 2007, online video, accessed 09 April 2011, URL:

  1. Jon Zhuang says:

    fXk yeah NIN rules

    • I first heard NIN in 1997, there track ‘The Perfect Drug’ was part of Triple J’s Hottest Hundred compilation Vol. 5. NIN didn’t grab my attention like other artists on the album. To be quite honest, I wasn’t a fan. I don’t think it’s bad music, it just doesn’t do it for me.

      I had heard about this project when studying cross-platform media, it was the breadth of the project that really interested me.

      I entered this research report with the idea that the album was a reaction to declining music sales. After delving into the project it became apparent that Reznor wasn’t some marketing guru, he’s simply an artist that wanted to experiment with media.

      When talking about the remix initiative, again something I thought was a reaction against piracy, Reznor said something along the lines of ‘it’d be cool to see what other people can do with it.’

      Really it’s the pure artisitc, and I think fair to say ‘Avant Guard’, nature of the album that really grabs my interest. I might not like Nine Inch Nails music, but I do like their brains.

      • Jon Zhuang says:

        for me they are more like an audio/visual research based music band by some research sound engineers/artists, I saw a video of Corey Taylor’s interview and he said:” some bands just don’t need to do those commercial shits, like NIN because they have the ability to do whateva they want, they’v already in THERE.” lol

  2. khemchal says:

    This essay gave me far more insight into the work of Trent Reznor and NIN than I had previously. I have analyzed works by Reznor at uni but never delved into his interactive process.
    Really like the way they have engaged fans through a hidden layer of interactivity, if the different approaches had been publicly announced they would of seemed like just another marketing campaign.
    Also surprised that such a major artist has entered into the creative commons licensing agreement, shows that copyright may be forced to evolve to the needs of future artists and fans.

    • Khem, an artist that I think you might be interested in is Tom Cosm. He is an electronic music producer from NZ. He also uses Creative Commons licensing for all of his music. He releases not only his tracks and live sets, but also the Ableton files for them. He also has a series of online tutorials on both the production and theory behind his music.

      Unlike NIN, I really enjoy Tom Cosm’s music, but more so his philosophy and use of Creative Commons licensing. I have been following Tom Cosm for a while and have started to notice other similar artists following suit. I do think this is the way in which the music industry is going to evolve.

  3. rossgnmurray says:

    Interesting. I looked into Reznor, I didn’t realise he composed the score for The Social Network. This guy is a machine. I find it refreshing that people out there are still experimenting with the way they deliver albums, obviously this was a well established band and so people were frothing at the mouth when they announced something like this so it wouldn’t work for everyone. For example, I don’t think Rebecca Black could pull it off. I don’t think Rebecca Black could pull anything off, useless.

  4. Wow that is truly amazing. It must have taken forever to come up with it all and it seems like kind of a puzzle to me. I guess it appeals to peoples curiosity, I mean if you knew there was a secret meeting and you didn’t know what was going to happen there you would wanna go just because you can’t risk not finding out. Intresting. But also how do people come up with all this?? They must have a lot of spear time…But good for them to find new ways of reaching out to people, cus that is what it is all about, right?! Getting your message through to people.

  5. chrisrowa says:

    Great analysis. Love how you have demonstrated how NIN is basically the antithesis to “dumbing things down” to reach a broader audience. Reznor seems to understand that not only are 21st century audiences intelligent (in particular his fans, with that level of passion) but there is no such thing as the mainstream anymore – the internet is made up of a series of niche markets, and if you’re able to tap into them, they will follow you down a long narrative “train of thought” and you can not only get your product out there but have a creative dialogue as well. interesting stuff.

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