It is starting to look like the free ride is coming to an end. In an attempt to lead a revolution of new artists against the free distribution of music, Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich pulled all Atoms For Peace
songs from Spotify. They have publicly denounced the music-streaming platform (via twitter
), and claim that Spotify's payment policy screws the little guy. According to the Radiohead/Atoms For Peace creators, if something is not done to stop this exploitation of artists it could mean the death of great music forever.
It would be a great step forward for the entire industry if it can get people to pay for music again. They are almost there too. For those who do not have the computer savvy to efficiently download music, Spotify is one of the most accessible outlets to listen for free. Limewire is dead, torrents carry viruses, and YouTube URL conversion sites are increasingly facing more restrictions. Spotify is prevalent, but it is not the only streaming service out there. Rhapsody, Pandora, and the new iTunes Radio all provide extremely similar services. It will be interesting to see if Yorke's fight will continue to all of these platforms, or if it will succumb to the new reality the music industry has entered in to. For a guy like me, buying music is slowly returning to the forefront of my acquisition tactics. If there is a mass exodus from Spotify and other streaming services, it may become my only option.
The argument Yorke and Godrich make is that streaming a group like Pink Floyd's entire catalogue is perfectly fine because millions of dollars have already been made off of their music. They say that Spotify pays too little to new artists whose albums stream in low numbers. While Yorke and Godrich are crusading for a just cause, asserting that studio album sales and radio plays are the sole ways to be successful in the music industry is absurd. Musicians need to be compensated for their work. No one is debating that. But are free streaming platforms and file-sharing databases the enemy to commercial success, or just a misunderstood ally?
Godrich claims that a landmark in Rock n' Roll history, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon
, may have never been created if Spotify existed in 1973. While it is irrelevant to rewrite the past, what would he say about another landmark, Workingman's Dead
? The Grateful Dead gave their music away for free when they started out and still lived to see the 21st Century (given that the only remaining members are Phil Lesh and Bob Weir). They taught us that there are a number of ways to get paid other than albums sales. For bands like this, developing a large following has proven to be very lucrative. There is an enormous potential value in spreading new music to the public for free. However, every band that tries it will not have the same success as The Dead. Live streaming is a beast that has not been dealt with before. For some people, it completely overshadows the idea of actually owning a copy of an album. Giving out music for free can be a useful marketing technique, but in today's landscape it has become harder and harder for bands to survive without a certain level of revenue from albums sales.
One of the most important things for an up-and-coming group is exposure. For non-traditional bands it may be difficult to find airplay on the radio, and unless there is a super catchy chorus somewhere on the record they can kiss a commercial or movie endorsement good bye. Spotify may not be shelling out enough cash to sapling groups, but it can begin to develop the single most valuable asset for them - fans. If Yorke's rebellion catches fire then perhaps live streaming is on the way out. Maybe America's youth will have to go back to asking their parents to actually buy albums for them. For the artists' sake I hope that happens.