New music-release strategies -- Beck and Coldplay redefine how they release their singles with secret slips and free downloads

In case you haven’t heard, the record business is changing. And fast. Here’s how four major artists are trying to redefine the way their tunes get from the recording studios to your ears.

The British rockers gave away a download of their stormy single ”Violet Hill” for a week starting April 29. Ah, but isn’t all the real dough in touring these days? Maybe so — but the generous guys are also playing free shows at NYC’s Madison Square Garden and London’s Carling Academy Brixton in June.

On May 5, without warning, Trent Reznor announced that fans can download his new album, The Slip, on While he already pulled a similar trick in March — surprise-releasing the instrumental Ghosts I-IV in various formats priced between $0 and $300 — Slip‘s 10 sludgy songs (with vocals!) come only one way: gratis.

Rumors flew on May 5 that he may ”secretly” crash his new LP, which was still untitled at press time, into stores within the next month — the same way the Raconteurs and Gnarls Barkley did in March. (Coincidentally, Beck’s CD is being produced by Gnarls’ Danger Mouse.) Beck’s reps declined to comment.

Robert Smith & Co. are celebrating their 13th studio album (due this fall) with four new singles, dropped online and in stores on the 13th of each month from May to August. They won’t be free or rush releases — but hey, that’s still pretty innovative for a band whose debut came out on vinyl and eight-track!