The horse is long out of the barn.
That’s my reaction to Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke’s announcement earlier this week that he was pulling his solo and Atoms For Peace music from the streaming service Spotify to protest the minuscule royalty payments it, and other similar services, issues to artists.
I absolutely agree with his point: there needs to be a model for online music that balances the interests of artists who perform and write music and are entitled to fair compensation for their works, of consumers who want easy access to huge libraries of music, and the need for companies that serve the music up to make some money for their efforts. I pay $10/month to get access to my Rdio account on my phone or any other mobile device. I’d pay twice that, as I rarely buy singles or albums from iTunes or Amazon anymore, if it meant artists could get a more fair return for my virtual spins of their music.
But, sadly, I think consumers have been so warped by nearly 15 years of cheap-to-free music on the Internet that there is no retraining them/us how to value music properly. You can only drink from the firehose so long before anything less seems unacceptable. If Spotify, Rdio, etc. jacked up their monthly rates to $20, I bet their already meager subscription rolls would shrink dramatically. Which would be a disaster for companies that are struggling to figure out how to make a profit.
I like that Yorke is sticking up for smaller artists who, unlike him, can’t survive on broad back catalogs and expect to sell several hundred thousand copies of new albums as he can with Radiohead. It’s not going to do much to change the mind of the consumer, though, who for the first time in the history of the record business, gets the best of the give-and-take with artists and record companies in the streaming music age.
Radio is dying. The iTunes era is coming to an end. Streaming music services, if they survive, clearly can’t match radio, or even iTunes, for royalty payouts. Being a musician has never been easy. But, more than any time since the dawn of the rock era, musicians must rely on touring, merchandising, and other methods it earn a living. They can’t hope to have a single picked up nationally and then sell a bunch of albums and live of the proceeds.
I wrote this on Tuesday and never got around to posting it. Tuesday night I finally read the <a href=’http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9419191/the-life-career-80s-pop-star-huey-lewis’>profile of Huey Lewis</a> that Steven Hyden wrote for Grantland a couple weeks back. It’s great for a lot of reasons, but I also thought Huey’s view of the music industry fit in with the subject of digital music and what it means to the consumer.
” American popular music is our only art form. It’s our most important export, period. And since time began, it’s been handled not as an art form but as a commodity. I mean, all records are the same price. Books are different prices, paintings are different prices, wine is different prices, but all music is the same fucking price. And why? Because the executives in charge of the business are not real businesspeople. They didn’t go to business school, they don’t have a business vision. ‘He just managed a band that sold 8 million records. So let’s put him in charge.'”