Op-Ed: Thom Yorke's BitTorrent Album – By Bob Lefsetz

The enemy is obscurity.

Atoms For Peace didn't do so well the second time around, what makes Thom Yorke think people are waiting for his new solo album, never mind interested in paying for it?

There seems to be a canard amongst the creative class that the world is against them, that the digerati/techies want to rip them off and the labels want them to be beholden and their only option is to jet us all back to 1995.

But that is patently untrue.

Are you really gonna castigate Spotify and the rest of the streaming services when they pay 70% to rights holders, exactly like the now vaunted iTunes?

Distribution has been flattened. Everything's available. And the last thing you want to do is put a wall around your content, prohibiting people checking it out on a whim, for free, especially when radio play is a nonstarter, especially when the younger generation knows not to bitch and is all about racking up YouTube plays, which pay quite handsomely when they're in the triple digit millions, which is the definition of a hit today.

That's right, Thom Yorke's album probably won't contain a hit.

Now don't get your knickers up in a bunch. If you like Radiohead and its elements, if you're listening, if Thom's happy, I've got no problem.

But Thom can't keep bitching as fewer and fewer people listen to his music and he looks more like a crybaby Luddite than a cutting edge savant.

No one's got any time anymore. But if you create something great, that people talk about, that they spread, you can make beaucoup coin today.

But you've got to admit the game is different. It's not so much that you've got to throw away recording revenue as you have to see that there are many more avenues to getting paid than there have ever been before.

And they're all based upon the music, so why would you lock up the music behind a glass case? Do they do this at the Apple Store? Of course not, they keep the merchandise out in the open, where you can touch it and feel it and use it, decide if you really want it. And you don't know until you do. I thought I wanted an iPhone 6 Plus until I tried it out and then decided it was too big. If I'd bought it without touching it first, I'd have been pissed. The same way I have been for eons upon paying my hard-earned cash for albums that were crap that I only played once, even though I loved what came before.

The paradigm has shifted. It's about plays as opposed to buys. Create something great and you will be paid forever, as people listen down the ages. And of course streaming payments will go up, and to fight this is to be the lone Dutch boy with your finger in the dike, it's futile.

Your job as a musician is to create great art, not to change the business model. Because the truth is the business model has been changed not by the techies or the labels but the consumer. Sure, they were enabled by the techies, but it turns out the public doesn't want to pay a lot for an album, oftentimes they don't want the album at all. If you were a car company and it turned out no one wanted a truck-based SUV would you keep making them and yelling at the public?

Of course not. You'd shift production. In this case, to car-based SUVs.

But I don't need to push the analogy. The distribution problem has been solved in the music business. Streaming won. To fight this is to be the Grateful Dead back in the seventies, starting their own label not understanding that distribution is key, that it would hamstring them, that getting their albums into all stores was a chore, getting paid almost an impossibility.

But Thom Yorke needs to be right, having railed against streaming in
the past.

For this I do not admire him. For a man who can't change his opinion is a one note blowhard. That's what life is about, changing your mind, listening to the data and continuing to evaluate, otherwise you're a politician, and check the ratings of Congresspeople, you don't want to be them.

And artists have always been about speaking truth to power.

And the power in this case is not Spotify or Capitol or any of the usual suspects, but the public. And the way you speak truth to the public is through your art, your songs, not the penumbra, not your political views or your distribution views or anything that doesn't hit them squarely in the ears. You lead with your music.

But if people can't hear it, you're lost.

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