Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich pull Atoms For Peace and The Eraser from Spotify’s music streaming service
Thom Yorke, the unmistakable voice and creative force behind Radiohead and Atoms For Peace, has made his disapproval of Spotify and it’s payment model clear by removing his non-Radiohead material from the music streaming service and tweeting about it. There’s been no mention of Radiohead removing its material from Spotify, but the move has sparked a torrent of commentary, support, solidarity, and criticism.
Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s producer and Yorke’s Atoms For Peace band mate, has also taken to tweeting about the situation, calling it a “small meaningless rebellion” and saying, “streaming suits [artists with a back] catalogue but cannot work as a way of supporting new artists’ work. Spotify and the like either have to address that fact and change the model for new releases or else all new music producers should be bold and vote with their feet. They have no power without new music.”
The debate over royalty payments and music streaming services isn’t new, and there are plenty of multi-platinum acts who have not made their material available on Spotify, including The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC. Pink Floyd only recently put its back catalog on Spotify, and Godrich’s tweets referred to Dark Side of the Moon to bolster his back-catalog argument.
“Pink Floyd’s catalogue has already generated billions of dollars for someone (not necessarily the band), so now putting it on a streaming site makes total sense. But if people had been listening to Spotify instead of buying records in 1973, I doubt very much if Dark Side would have been made. It would just be too expensive.”
In a post on The Guardian, Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly) criticizes Spotify’s model, saying, “I have met many fans over the years who are proud to find and listen to music on Spotify. They are under the impression that their subscription fees are helping to support us… But music fans have been sold a lie… To give you an example, 4,685 Spotify plays of my last solo album equated to £19.22 [roughly $29.20, or 0.6¢ per stream]. The equivalent to me selling two albums at a show. I think it’s fair to say that at least two of those almost 5,000 listeners would have bought the album from me if they knew the financial disparity from streaming.”
Spotify has defended its model and royalty rates, and points to the fact that it has “paid $500 million to rightsholders so far and by the end of 2013 this number will reach $1 billion.” Spotify has also released a study, Adventures in the Netherlands: Spotify, Piracy and the new Dutch experience, that suggests its services have significantly contributed to a decline in music piracy in Holland.
In a fairly strange side note, Brian Message, Radiohead’s manager, called the music streaming service “a good thing” in response to Yorke and Godrich’s outbursts. Forbes’ Tim Worstall also argues in favor of Spotify, suggesting (among other things) that The Guardian’s “art graduates” can’t add, that Duckworth doesn’t make money because he’s not very popular, and that comparing streams to record sales is part of the problem.
“For a start, he’s [Duckworth] compared his net receipt from Spotify against his total gross income before expenses of selling two physical albums. That’s not the way to clarify matters at all. But Spotify isn’t the physical sale of something at all, is it? It’s the one time presentation of a piece of music: it’s much more akin to radio play than it is to album sales.”
It sounds good at first, that streaming resembles radio, but then the argument falls apart. With streaming, a listener is specifically choosing a track or an album to enjoy, as opposed to it’s being randomly played on the radio. And the fact is, people are choosing streaming in lieu of purchasing, and to Duckworth’s point, often with the belief that they are similarly compensating the artist.
Pitchfork ran a piece in 2012, “Making Cents,” that digs into the streaming model, also comparing streaming royalties to record sales, and asserting that, “As businesses, Pandora and Spotify are divorced from music.”
And then, as pundits are immersed again in this ongoing debate, Thom Yorke announces that Atoms For Peace are teaming up with Soundhalo to offer video downloads from their upcoming shows in London. Worstall’s follow-up post regarding the announcement suggests that this entire episode was a publicity stunt, claiming Yorke is “launching” the service (which went live on May 16th).
“Isn’t that just the most amazingly stunning coincidence?” writes Worstall. “Of course, you’d have to be the most outrageously cynical person to believe that the two stories are connected. Telling everyone that Spotify really just wasn’t worth it while organising one’s own competing service.”
I have not yet found a source corroborating that Yorke’s association with Soundhalo is anything more than an artist using the platform to deliver product.
Regardless, the debate over new revenue models does continue. A post on The Atlantic suggests that while Yorke’s pulling Atoms For Peace from Spotify doesn’t really mean much in regard to it’s impact on Spotify, it does make an important point. “It’s still not clear whether an equation yet exists that will make [the amount that artists receive] ‘fair.’ Yorke and co. haven’t yet offered a solution to this state of affairs. But they’ve nevertheless offered something valuable: a reminder that a lot of musicians are unhappy with the status quo, and that some musicians have the power to make fans unhappy with it too.”
Image of Thome Yorke from anyonlinyr