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Thom Yorke vs. Spotify: Why The Radiohead Frontman Is an Unfortunate Mouthpiece for the Underdog

Thom Yorke on BBC1

Are Thom Yorke’s criticisms of Spotify fair?

Thom Yorke continues to bash Spotify in his latest interview with Sopitas, despite continuing to allow the streaming service to offer a robust array of Radiohead songs and albums. Throughout countless interviews this summer, Yorke has been hyper-critical of Spotify as a resource to less popular, indie, or smaller acts out there. He considers Spotify an unneeded gatekeeper to the artist-fan interaction that Radiohead was trying to create when they offered their pivotal, game-change of an album In Rainbows with a “set your own price” option that similarly falls in line with Bandcamp, the sixtyone, and other band websites.

Setting your own price on an album isn’t all that revelatory or radical, nor is bashing a relatively beneficial streaming service that rightfully pays artists legally rather than letting them toil for nothing thanks to the prevalence of media piracy that goes as far as the theft of full albums, DVDs, and even music videos. To call Spotify “the last fart, the last desperate fart of a dying corpse” and subsequently bash its place in the music industry while Atoms for Peace rides high on the contentious festival circuit only further points to just how out of touch Yorke is with the inner workings of the music industry itself. It’s a hypocritical power-play, to put the supergoup’s faith in a large-format live setting that’s threatening to collapse on itself from the simple prevalence and current popularity of the festival.

Yorke, and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich initially took to Twitter to air their criticisms, only further shaking the credibility of their accusations. As a networking platform, source for breaking news, and 140 character melting pot of jokes and knowledge, the site is notorious for users usurping others’ creativity and hijacking tweets faster than the time it takes to head to the Pirate Bay and torrent Atoms for Peace’s lone album. The duo are key members in Radiohead and Atoms for Peace and yet neither seem to check or balance each other when it comes to the business decision of pulling AFP’s music from Spotify but reaping the benefits of constant streams of Pablo Honey, OK Computer, and countless other iconic Radiohead albums.

Thom Yorke in concert

Yorke’s “underground” image relies on industry assistance.

The music industry continues to change and morph into an unfair playground for artists, though historically it’s a rarity that the musicians involved in the actual making of songs were fairly compensated. Similar dilemmas fall in line with other creative careers and it’s unlikely that those smaller bands that Yorke is allegedly fighting for will get paid their dues, however much they may imagine that may be. The double-edged sword of technology is the reason why bands with less than one million or even one thousand listens can get their music onto Spotify, which typically handles music licensing inquiries through distributors. If that scheme of an unsigned band getting in contact with a third-party distributor to offer up their music is unpalatable, there are other websites that allow for more creative freedom without the meddling middle men that undoubtedly helped make Yorke and Godrich’s outfits what they are today.

To get a well-oiled machine of a superband such as Atoms for Peace to properly run as such, it takes booking agents in multiple regions (international, US, EU, etc.) along with publicists, tour managers, and splitting off into groups of studio personnel and production managers, not to mention the staff it takes to transport such high-profile artists and act as liaisons between Yorke and co. and his beloved fans. Connecting with fans isn’t an all or nothing debate, of course, but Yorke fails to realize all that’s going into his success on and off tour, not to mention the fact that Spotify is also attempting to do its part by navigating complicated, inherently unfair legal agreements in the hope that it can somehow provide any compensation at all to the artists it features. It’s unfair that not everyone can make a living wage in music just as it’s unfair that the entire waitstaff of Los Angeles can’t always make it as actors.

Hierarchy is intrinsic to our society whether we like it or not. Unless there’s some type of global egalitarianism or currency is eliminated, the little guy will continue to suffer from the greed of its overlords while unfortunate mouthpieces like Yorke and Godrich put up their best contradictory rhetoric for the sake of some noble goal of fighting the power. What’s working in music is streaming sites that allow for more music discovery. This is the current generation’s word-of-mouth, finding a random playlist on 8tracks and falling in love with an artist they’ve yet to hear, then looking them up on Spotify for the sake of enjoyment. There’s a stark difference between the casual fan, the consumer, and the discoverer. The latter category will rightfully pay their dues to who they deem deserving artists and they sure don’t need Thom Yorke’s approval to do so.

Photo 1: Thom Yorke with Nigel Godrich on BBC1 (screencap). Photo 2: Angela N. released under a Creative Commons license.

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April Siese

April Siese

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