What is Music Worth? Spotify Responds to Thom Yorke’s Comments

After Nigel Goodrich and Thom Yorke’s Twitter rant about Spotify this weekend, the music streaming company has responded to their criticism, and in turn, sparked a whole host of reflections on the value of art. Goodrich and Yorke posit that the service is bad for new artists and made the decision to pull their Atoms For Peace collaborative album, along with their respective solo records Eraser and Goodrich’s Ultraista. Their main complaint stems from the fact that Spotify doesn’t offer enough revenue to make art a viable source of income, to make it valuable as a vocation—that the company is just the latest attempt for the industry side to control the distribution of music instead of artists.

Spotify spoke to Music Week about the outburst, claiming that they are still modifying their payment model and haven’t entirely worked out the kinks. A spokesperson confirmed that the company is indeed highly invested in paying artists and helping new artists thrive.

“Spotify’s goal is to grow a service which people love, ultimately want to pay for, and which will provide the financial support to the music industry necessary to invest in new talent and music. We want to help artists connect with their fans, find new audiences, grow their fan base and make a living from the music we all love,” a spokesperson told Music Weekly. The source also revealed some key numbers that the company has paid out to artists for royalties.

We’re 100% committed to making Spotify the most artist-friendly music service possible, and are constantly talking to artists and managers about how Spotify can help build their career.

“Right now we’re still in the early stages of a long-term project that’s already having a hugely positive effect on artists and new music. We’ve already paid $500 [million] to rightsholders so far and by the end of 2013 this number will reach $1 [billion]. Much of this money is being invested in nurturing new talent and producing great new music. We’re 100% committed to making Spotify the most artist-friendly music service possible, and are constantly talking to artists and managers about how Spotify can help build their careers,” the source added.

As of right now, Spotify itself is worth three billion dollars as a company, and is approaching their five billion dollar goal. Although, Apple is hard at work on a competitor radio/streaming service that could threaten the company’s current top dog status. But if things are moving more and more towards streaming a more viable way to pay artists has to emerge. With the rapidly changing state of the industry that doesn’t seem unlikely, yet, now that consumers are used to getting music for free—or streaming it for a low monthly fee—it seems like it will take a big shift to put artist’s back at the forefront of the pay scale.

Still, their move is especially interesting in light of 2007’s In Rainbows—which Radiohead released without a label on a pay-what-you-can model—an angle that lends credibility to the perspective that these are by no means greed-related complaints but actual concerns for the state of the industry. However, Stephen Street, an English producer with a far lower profile than Goodrich or Radiohead claimed that their decision to let Rainbows be released for free helped bring about the current climate.

He wrote on Twitter: “Bit rich coming from Thom Yorker [sic] that Spotify doesn’t work for new artists. It’s exactly what I said when Radiohead made their album available for free/ pay what you want a few years back.” His full comments on Twitter are copied in the gallery above, but he does bring up an interesting point—Radiohead are considered pioneers not just as musicians but as role models for the whole industry—the move could easily be interpreted as a supportive of piracy. In response, Yorke wrote: “For me In Rainbows was a statement of trust .people [sic] still value new music. That’s all we’d like from Spotify – don’t make us the target.” For more information on the actual sales of In Rainbows—which earned more money for the band than any other album they’ve put out—read this excellent article on NME.

Yorke called the act a “small, meaningless rebellion,” but it seems to have unfolded into a much more nuanced discussion about the industry, and it’s one that definitely needs to take place. What is music worth to us as a society? What are we willing to do to make sure that artists can succeed and continue to live off their art? What is the price of art? These are all rhetorical questions, but it’s the artists themselves who need to speak out on issues of this nature and help establish the rules. Killer Mike and El-P just released their excellent collaborative album Run the Jewels for free. They will probably make money off the merch, but off the actual music they chose to make nothing. Despite all the criticism that Jay-Z received for co-branding his album with Samsung, at the end of the day he got paid even though the app itself broke. For Jay, getting paid for his art is the most important thing, for a lot of other artists working with a brand is a betrayal.

For Yorke, getting paid less than what he feels he deserves is the breaking point—but as Street points out, new artists or lower profile ones don’t really have the luxury of making decisions like that. For them, Spotify could lead to exposure that lands them a record deal or sponsorship that makes creating more art possible. There’s no easy answers and in 2013 there’s no one-size-fits-all formula that establishes what music is worth. Most do agree that Spotify isn’t paying artists enough, an issue that they seem to be seeking to remedy. As of right now, the rest of Radiohead’s catalogue that was released through EMI is still available on Spotify.

(Music Weekly)