Bonobo, Thom Yorke & Spotify

I was recently having lunch with a good friend who often tips me off on good things to listen to. He’s the man behind this playlist which amounts to my hip hop homework (Golden Era hip hop albums I ought to own). We were chatting and he mentioned a Late Night Tales mix by Fatboy Slim he’d discovered. After digging it out on Spotify I then found another such mix, this time by Bonobo.

I’ve always liked the idea of Bonobo more than the reality (I find that I like one or two tracks on their albums, but they can get a bit wearing after a while), but this mix picks tracks that bring all of their best characteristics to the fore, but leaves out the annoying bits. The fact that I had found this mix on Spotify got me thinking, again, about what Thom Yorke recently said about the service.

In case you missed it, millionaire musician Thom Yorke was rather scathing about the music streaming service, calling it:

the last desperate fart of a dying corpse

Apart from the fact that a man as intelligent as Yorke should realise that a corpse can’t die (it’s already dead), his entire attack seems to miss the point. He seems to dislike the fact that Spotify is trying to make money from the distribution of music.

When we did the In Rainbows thing what was most exciting was the idea you could have a direct connection between you as a musician and your audience. You cut all of it out, it’s just that and that. And then all these fuckers get in a way, like Spotify suddenly trying to become the gatekeepers to the whole process

What Thom is missing here is that it’s not Spotify who are illegally downloading music in plague like proportions. It’s not Spotify or even the labels who refuse to pay for music; Spotify is trying to find a way to make money out of giving music away for free, and share that with musicians and it’s trying to find new ways every day.

No, the ones killing the music industry are the ‘fans’ Yorke seems so desperate to have a connection with who are reluctant to get out their wallets.

In fact it’s interesting that he mentions In Rainbows, the album Radiohead released over the internet with the option for fans to choose how much they paid for it, right down to 0. Because despite there being an opportunity for fans legally to download it for free, or even to suggest that they valued the band’s work by actually paying for it, more people downloaded it via unofficial torrents.

Therefore it strikes me that Yorke blaming Spotify for how much money musicians make for the internet is rather like blaming newsagents for the decline in fortunes of the newspaper industry. If he really wants to blame anyone, he should blame the labels for the proportion that they take out of the revenue Spotify does generate, which is not insignificant. That’s a boring contractual discussion though, and probably wouldn’t get as much newsprint.

It’s not often that I would side with Moby against the man responsible for Radiohead’s output, but when it comes to Spotify, and the future of music, he’s bang on.

To summarise, I think it was Jeff Jarvis who said:

Should isn’t a business model

He was trying to highlight that whilst the people who make newspapers (or, in this instance music) might think that people should pay for their content (something I would agree with), that isn’t going to stop people taking it for free if they can. Jeff Jarvis may be annoying and easy to ridicule but in this instance (if it was him) he was right.

It strikes me that it would be so much better if people as talented and clever as Yorke and David Byrne actually engaged with the future and started trying to find solutions, rather than just shouting at the trains.

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