11082726 | Jeremy Hannaford
Nine Inch Nails | Year Zero (Nothing / Interscope Records)
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 |
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 http://yearzero.nin.com/0024/ 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: http://www.ninwiki.com/Timeline_of_Year_Zero_Discovery
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: ninremixes.com
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.
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.
Creative Commons, 2011, website, accessed April 12, 2011, URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/
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: http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2007-04-17-nin-charticle_N.htm
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://www.personalizemedia.com/#Preface–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: http://www.ninwiki.com/Category:World_of_Year_Zero
Nine Inch Nails Wiki, ‘Open Source Resistance’, 03 December 2009, accessed April 9 2011, URL:
Nine Inch Nails Wiki, ‘Timeline of the Year Zero Discovery’, 03 December 2009, accessed April 9 2011, URL:
PAOLETTA, M 30 March 2007. ‘Online Odyssey Stoking Interest In New NIN Album’. Billboard.com , accessed April 10 2011, URL: http://www.billboard.com/bbco/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003565585
REZNOR, T, 2007, Nine Inch Nails.com Blog and Media Archive, weblog, accessed 11 April 2007, URL: http://ninblogs.wordpress.com/?s=year+zero
REZNOR, T, 2009, Nine Inch Nails.com Blog and Media Archive, weblog, accessed 11 April 2007, URL: http://ninblogs.wordpress.com/?s=year+zero
REZNOR, T, 2011, Nine Inch Nails.com Blog and Media Archive, weblog, accessed 11 April 2007, URL: http://ninblogs.wordpress.com/?s=year+zero
‘Trent Reznor Year Zero Interview’, 2007, online video, accessed 09 April 2011, URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr8FXnur5Z4