As frontman of Radiohead, one of the greatest rock bands of our time, Thom Yorke is revered by millions. But he is not just the voice of the Oxford quintet, a band who are quite possibly the most lusted after festival headline act (by myself included) and whose frequent appearances in Best Albums of All Time lists are indisputable.
The vegan has lent his world-improving ideas to such causes as animal ethics, Amnesty, Friends of the Earth and Jubilee 2000.
He is a visionary – a pioneering voice in the music industry. Back in 2007, Radiohead challenged the industry by offering their fans an album, In Rainbows, for which they could pay what they wanted – as little as the 45p credit-card handling fee.
Maybe Yorke’s had enough of giving, because now he’s on the warpath. And the object of his wrath is Spotify – the music streaming service – from which he has now removed his solo music and the debut album by his band Atoms for Peace.
I’m not quite sure why it’s now that the band are attacking Spotify’s paltry royalty payments to artists whose music it streams. But he explained his motivation on Twitter: “We’re standing up for our fellow musicians.”
His Atoms for Peace bandmate, producer Nigel Godrich, stated: “It’s bad for new music. It’s an equation that just doesn’t work.”
Really? I’m not convinced how many rising musicians would agree. Spotify is essential to new acts wanting to build a fanbase. What crops up again and again when I interview musicians who are starting out is how much they want their music to reach as wide an audience as possible.
When I was in a band back in the late 1990s – very much pre-Myspace and Spotify – the only people who could listen to our music were our friends and our families. Back then, we relied on word of mouth: friends who liked us brought their friends. What we’d have given to have our music heard by more people.
A total of 24 million Spotify users around the world (of whom 6 million pay a subscription fee) is a pretty enormous platform, and it’s one that’s taken up by many acts who can showcase their own music through a third-party distributor if they are unsigned – much easier and cheaper than releasing music on CD.
It’s a fact that bands have for a long time made their living through live shows rather than recorded music. Chances are that if you hear a name mentioned, you might pop on to Spotify or YouTube and have a listen before deciding to buy a ticket for the gig. The “Discover” tool on Spotify has every intention of helping its users discover new music, but it’s probably the ability to create Spotify playlists that is the service’s prime discovery factor. This very minute as you read, music fans will be engaged in Spotify “conversations” with friends, recommending names of artists to each other and then checking them out on Spotify. That is an important step towards buying music and gig tickets.
Streaming sites have opened up a world of exploring new music and provided a platform for new artists, and if fans aren’t streaming your music on Spotify, they might well be listening illegally.
Perhaps Yorke will come up with an alternative, more profitable, idea for new artists wanting to get their music heard?