Thom Yorke’s Music Streaming Rebellion

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Music Streaming Rebellion

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.”

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Story Links
Thom Yorke blasts Spotify on Twitter as he pulls his music

Sam Duckworth: Thom Yorke’s right – artists can’t survive on Spotify streams

Spotify Responds to Criticism From Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich

Adventures in the Netherlands: New Spotify study sees encouraging downwards trend in music piracy in the Netherlands

Spotify row: Radiohead’s manager says music streaming service is ‘good thing’

Spotify Royalties Appear To Be Awfully High Despite What Thom Yorke Says

Making Cents

Thom Yorke Launches Music Streaming Service Mere Days After Criticizing Spotify

Thom Yorke’s Spotify Protest: Annoying, Not That Effective, and Still Important

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14 thoughts on “Thom Yorke’s Music Streaming Rebellion

  1. On this issue, comments made by the artist Tom McRae’s about Spotify having pulled the wool over music fans’ eyes making them believe that their tiny monthly subscription is “supporting” artists are very true. If a music fan subscribes to a service, they feel everything is legitimate and that the artist is getting what he/she deserves. I know there are some people who do still buy after having heard a song on Spotify. However, they are in the minority – most listeners just don’t feel the need anymore: comments on various sites regarding this subject have revealed that many people “haven’t bought CDs and MP3s in years” since they’ve had Spotify. This is the death knell to the music industry in terms of proper sales.

    In regard to the mentioned amount of 0.6c per stream that the artist receives on average: even that pittance is above the sum Spotify often actually pays – to set the record straight from personal experience – Spotify pays me mostly $0.002 and at the very maximum $0.008 cents per stream – I recently received $30 for thousands of plays!

    Spotify is not to be confused with the radio – this is music on demand – whatever you want, when you want it, just like having CDs or MP3s, yet listeners are not paying the artists their dues. So, 400,000 (U.K. Gold single threshold) Spotify plays @ $0.002 = $800 – enough for a couple of bills and a few weeks of shopping… An artisan producing lamps, armchairs, whatever it might be, cannot afford to give his/her products away for free and should not be expected to do so. They would not be able to survive. Exactly the same goes for a working musician and his songs.

    All my months of investment and hard work to produce music was being enjoyed by people for nothing. So, I have pulled my music from Spotify. I recommend a push by artists to pull their music entirely from Spotify at least until there is fair monetary compensation as recommended by the organisations such as the Musicians’ Union.
    Everyone seems to be asking what is the alternative? Well, it’s quite simple: don’t be an old skinflint pirate – if you like a song pay 90 cents for it!

  2. It’s just ridiculous how things have gotten to where they are today. The model that should be followed is the same as for terrestrial radio. The various streaming services should be logging the tunes they play and pay royalties accordingly at the same scale used by terrestrial radio. The argument that they are somehow a new model that does not have to pay royalties – or that they should pay reduced royalties, is simply absurd. They are not a new model. The model is in essence the same. They are “broadcasting” music over the internet. They are simply the new thief.

    For a business to argue that they can’t survive if they are required to pay for the goods they sell (music) is once again absurd. Does a grocery store argue they can’t survive if they have to pay for the groceries they turn around and sell? I suppose it could be argued to the grocery manufacturers that they will be able to get valuable exposure and somehow be able to make money in other ways, right?

    Quite frankly, all this “exposure” does more harm than good. It creates chaos and bedlam. It requires even more energy, investment, and focus to make a living as an artist. It gets further away from the ability to pay as you go to having to place investment into a bottomless pit with not a better chance of succeeding than winning the lottery. I realize it has always been tough, and never a guarantee. Now it’s tougher – many times tougher.

    I hear the argument that there is much more opportunity now in the age of the internet, etc. Opportunity for what? Get your music streamed online and gain lots of exposure?

  3. 4,681 plays @ .06 cents a play, comes to $281… there’s the problem… Spotify doesn’t know how to add!!!

  4. Don’t artists get a lot of exposure as a part of a streaming site? I know that I’ve learned about a lot of new artists while streaming (I use Torch Music), you’d think it would be worth it for them.

      1. I’ve gone to several shows by artists I’ve discovered on spotify and napster. I live in Los Angeles, so there are many opportunities to see acts live. By the way, check out It’s now possible for artists to reach a wide audience by live streaming their performances from smaller venues, or even their living room.

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