[NB: this post contains strong language quoted from a Thom Yorke interview]
IN BRIEF:There have been a spate of major names in the music biz recently speaking out about what they perceive as the inequities of the record industry, specifically the new streaming services (particularly Spotify), arguing that their revenue isn't reaching artists. Here's an excerpt from a lengthy diatribe/considered attack (which do you think?) from Talking Heads' David Byrne, an artist well known for experimenting with digital technologies:
A series of high profile artists have expressed strong views on the business model of streaming sites such as Spotify: some (Thom Yorke, David Byrne) argue its grossly unfair to artists, who receive very, very little even for huge international hits; others (Dave Stewart, Dave Allen) argue they offer promotion and that we should accept this is what the market and today's consumers, who prefer 'renting' to purchasing, want, and that the music business as it currently is is no more 'worthy' than others like the travel industry which have been 'disrupted' and transformed by new media.
|Many article comments disagreed with Byrne|
The amounts these services pay per stream is miniscule – their idea being that if enough people use the service those tiny grains of sand will pile up. Domination and ubiquity are therefore to be encouraged. We should readjust our values because in the web-based world we are told that monopoly is good for us. The major record labels usually siphon off most of this income, and then they dribble about 15-20% of what's left down to their artists. Indie labels are often a lot fairer – sometimes sharing the income 50/50. Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi) has published abysmal data on payouts from Pandora and Spotify for his song "Tugboat" and Lowery even wrote a piece entitled "My Song Got Played on Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make from a Single T-shirt Sale!" For a band of four people that makes a 15% royalty from Spotify streams, it would take 236,549,020 streams for each person to earn a minimum wage of $15,080 (£9,435) a year. For perspective, Daft Punk's song of the summer, "Get Lucky", reached 104,760,000 Spotify streams by the end of August: the two Daft Punk guys stand to make somewhere around $13,000 each. Not bad, but remember this is just one song from a lengthy recording that took a lot of time and money to develop. That won't pay their bills if it's their principal source of income. And what happens to the bands who don't have massive international summer hits?This is extracted from his 2013 feature for The Guardian, the title of which I've paraphrased for this post.
Dave Allen directly responded:
It is hard for me to understand why intelligent people like David Byrne and Thom Yorke do not appear to understand that we are in the midst of new markets being formed.I did read through a good chunk of the comments after Byrne's article, and it is true that most were unsympathetic, arguing that artistic expression does not need to be linked to an industrial, capitalist model such as it is now. Allen goes on to highlight the cultural shift from purchasing music to own and 'renting' it, and compares the likes of Spotify with commercial radio:
... when we look to other industries that the internet flattened, it is hard to find many articles written in defence of travel agents who had to adapt to competition from websites like Expedia, or go out of business. And one only has to look at the comments section of Byrne's article to see how a vast majority of Guardian readers feel about the issues he tells us of (I'll let you read them, it's not pretty).
... I have no interest in saving the recording industry in its current form, since it was set up to exploit musicians. It pays low royalties to musicians for sales of their work in return for providing money so they can record their work.
Allen's argument is explicitly free market
It is not hyperbole to suggest that this generation's music fans want to rent their music, not own it. Spotify may not have created that shift but they certainly provided a solution to easy-access mobile music streaming. They simply saw a consumer demand, just as any company in any marketplace would. I am certain that Spotify would want every single music fan on its service to pay the monthly subscription, but is it Spotify's fault if we choose not to do that and listen to the ad-supported version instead? This generation's music fans are using streaming services to create their own programming. And how many musicians out there in the world use Spotify? I'd bet there are many.Back and forth the argument goes ... what about Thom Yorke's views?
Do musicians feel queasy when they listen to FM radio? That is, an ad-supported service that is free to listen to and pays out royalties to music publishers based on radio play – ie, the more artists are played the more they get paid. One thing is certain: when artists remove their music from Spotify they are simply ensuring that they will receive zero royalties from that service. They will also ensure that they are not in a service that provides massive distribution of their work and is not a walled garden like FM radio is.
I've blogged on this topic plenty of times; you can find a host of other articles/views in the Guardian's Digital music and audio or Spotify microsites, to take but two examples.
The new interview is Yorke's longest yet explaining his views, as he compares Spotify to what Radiohead did with their In Rainbows album in 2007, self-releasing it online and allowing fans to set their own price for the download.
Radiohead have experimented with online distribution
"When we did the In Rainbows thing what was most exciting was the idea you could have a direct connection between you as a musician and your audience. You cut all of it out, it's just that and that. And then all these fuckers get in a way, like Spotify suddenly trying to become the gatekeepers to the whole process," said Yorke.
"We don't need you to do it. No artists needs you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so fuck off. But because they're using old music, because they're using the majors… the majors are all over it because they see a way of re-selling all their old stuff for free, make a fortune, and not die."
Dave Stewart is one to have had a volte face on Spotify:
as a songwriter you should worship Spotify, because they've come along with a solution."What do you think?
It's an interesting turnaround for the songwriter, producer and one half of the Eurythmics, who told consumer technology magazine Stuff in a 2012 interview that he would earn $47 if his album was streamed non-stop for three years on the music streaming service, and that newer artists would be better off "selling their albums out of the boot of a car".