Radiohead singer Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich have reignited the debate about music and the internet, and particularly the popular streaming service Spotify.
They have pulled material from their Atoms for Peace project off the platform, and in a series of tweets they accused the company of making shady deals with record companies.
Songs on Spotify can reach a very wide audience but pay extremely low rates to artists.
Yorke told fans in a tweet “Make no mistake new artists you discover on #Spotify will not get paid. Meanwhile shareholders will shortly be rolling in it. Simples.”
We should welcome Yorke’s attempts to start a debate about the inequities of the music industry and his desire to speak up for lesser known and lower paid artists.
But consumer or artist boycotts of Spotify are unlikely to usher in the sweeping changes that are needed to support new talent.
Writer Hunter S Thompson observed that, “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.”
He may have been exaggerating —slightly. But it’s certainly true that the narrow pursuit of profit has got in the way of creativity.
All too often artists are marginalised or ignored because their looks, ethnicity or artistic choices are deemed “less marketable” by a cynical industry establishment.
The internet has provided real opportunities to break the stranglehold of the old industry gatekeepers and open new avenues of direct communication between artists and fans.
But new artists looking for exposure still rely on social media and streaming sites. These are owned by and run in the commercial interests of corporations and their shareholders.
This isn’t the fault of artists or their fans.
As singer-songwriter Sam Duckworth, also known as Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, eloquently put it, “I don’t blame the consumer for this problem: it is unfair to criticise those who opted out of torrenting to replace it with legal subscription streaming.
“Rather, I believe the problem lies with the rhetoric of the industry and its reluctance to debate the facts.
“Unless those higher up in the industry are prepared to acknowledge the disparity between the commercial success of Spotify and the royalty rates paid to artists, the outlook for smaller musicians will remain bleak.”
Sadly, those higher up are unlikely to shift very far.
Judging by some of Thom Yorke’s other tweets—such as a “Capitalism Is Boring” photo from Glastonbury—I suspect that he may have reached the same conclusion as I have. That is, that human creativity will never flourish while culture is shaped by and mediated through the pursuit of private profit.