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Radiohead quits Spotify. Should classical artists pull out, too?

Thom Yorke, the Radiohead frontman, has pulled his music from the streaming site because, he tweets, ‘new artists get paid fuck all with this model.’

Make no mistake,’ he adds, ‘new artists you discover on Spotify will not get paid. Meanwhile shareholders will shortly be rolling in it. Simples.’

Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s producer, clarifies: ‘The music industry is being taken over by the back door, and if we don’t try and make it fair for new music producers and artist, then the art will suffer.’

Sound familiar? Spotify is to classical artists as Amazon used-books is to writers: there’s nothing in it for us.

Time for a mass walkout?




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  1. This is a good story. The massive player iTunes is moving to a streaming model in a big way to compete with Spotify, Deezer and the like, so the problem for those of us who want to make a living will only get worse. These guys live in a world of their own. New classical recordings are tough to fund already without stripping the revenue back even more.

    Companies in the streaming business think music on the internet is a licence to print money – for them. Take a look at Google’s profits from YouTube as well. As streaming grows we have to think about the implications for broadcasters, especially the BBC. Internet streaming is the equivalent of radio-on-demand with an enormous growing catalogue, and their overheads are much smaller than those of national broadcasters.

    Radiohead has got it right. The only possible pushback now is to cross your legs and to say ‘no’. Let us hope others will say ‘no’ as well and force some discussion of profit-sharing with the people who make the music which makes Spotify, Apple and Google so rich.

  2. Emil Archambault says:

    Do classical artists make money from recordings anyway? Would a pullout increase the artists’ revenues, or would it simply reduce their visibility? What Spotify can afford is easy publicity at minimal cost (except for the loss of revenue). I it worth to renounce this visibility in order to recover ‘marginal’ revenues?

    • Sorry to disagree. USD10 royalties from Spotify on 10000 plays? – give me a break. The argument reminds me of those who say universal surveillance is no problem if you have nothing to hide, or that rape-victims should not have gone out wearing attractive clothes. The issues are not whether you have guilty secrets or are “asking for trouble” – they are simply down to satisfying society’s expectations of being fair and reasonable, and operating within the law.

      Artists, composers, publishers and others employed in creating entertainment which makes billions (yes billions) do have a right to a share in the profits. It is true to say that performers have been getting used to the idea that they need to make more of their living elsewhere other than from royalties on sales of CDs and downloads, but that does not mean either that it is fair or that they are very happy about it as it is, let alone getting even worse. The big growth in streaming takes the worries significantly further where we are expected to work pro bono while US megacompanies fill their offshore accounts to bursting point.

      The internet companies making fortunes out of recorded music (much of it taxfree) only achieve this by the consent of those who give them the content the market expects and will pay for. It could be that in some cases it is beneficial to get exposure and publicity if say artists are going on a big tour somewhere. However this benefit does not equate to a licence for the likes of Spotify, Google and Apple to grab all the profits.

      • USG10 on 10,000 plays you say?
        Not convinced, but lets take it as fact.
        10,000 track plays is equivalent to say 1,000 album plays. Consider a really great album, you probably play it fifty times when you own it over a lifetime. So USD10 is the royalty received on the equivalent plays of selling 20 (good) albums.
        I’ll suggest to you that there are a lot of artists who would be happy to receive $0.50 per album sold, for every album sold, without further deductions / awaiting to recoup the additional costs involved in physical manufacture and so on. It doesn’t sound like too bad a model to me.

        Of course, it falls down if you produce poor material, or material people aren’t interested in buying. Then you receive hardly any streams, and hardly any income. Whereas you might have sold a few CDs for curiosity value, and made some money on physical product which you won’t on streaming.
        But if you record something really well, and it’s very popular, perhaps the Spotify revenues aren’t as disastrous as you think, compared to physical?

        • Great posts.

          If new releases cannot generate enough return from sales or indirect revenue from licensing or promotion of tours, then prepare yourselves for a bleak future for new releases in any quantity or consistency in quality. Take a look at the Freeview TV Guide and see what happens when there is minimal funding of new quality tv programmes – in that case because of proliferation of too many channels diluting advertisement revenue. We have endless cooking shows, gardening shows, repeats of Minder, repeats of The Saint, repeats of Lewis, repeats of Cheers, repeats of Murder She Wrote. The repeats are often of programmes which were very well made, but funders do not invest so heavily in new content because they stand minimal chance of breaking even let alone making a profit. If you want an equivalent future of recycled repeats of back-catalogue and of new releases which are going to be very often third rate or vanity productions, then keeping standing by.

          Streaming and downloading are not free, and they are extremely lucrative for the likes of Spotify, Google and Apple. This is no ‘freedom’ issue, it is uniquely an issue of diversion of revenue from those who make the product to those who distribute it – to the disadvantage of all except their execs and shareholders, including ultimately disadvantaging the purchasers. Farmers who supply vegetables, dairy products and meat to supermarkets often complain justly about disproportionate payment,… but at least they get paid!

          Finally. The argument of people like me is not with those who enjoy what we produce – we love you dearly and understand what makes you enthusiasts. Our argument is that there seems no way to obstruct the making of music into a commodity for greedy US tax-dodging multinationals to plunder like locusts with no interest in music nor usually in sound quality. By endorsing and even, God forbid, encouraging the prevailing business model for music streaming the irony is that music-lovers are turkeys investing in Christmas.

          • I think it’s important to understand Spotify’s benefits to artists outside of a purely revenue based argument. I’m a classical artist and I’m constantly using spotify because of its abilities to aggregate the same music by so many different artists. That provides a myriad of interpretations from which we can base our own on. We can hear the same Schubert song by Fischer Dieskau, Thomas Quasthoff, Christa Ludwig, Ian Bostridge, Fritz Wunderlich, Thomas Allen, etc, etc. Our ears are our strength, and spotify is the most powerful tool to come out for our ears since the radio. Having everything right there and easy for comparing is incredibly invaluable, especially in development of personal style. Consider also how incredibly difficult it is becoming for artists to survive when their careers begin. If we have to buy 6 albums from 6 different people, we’re losing meals. And chances are those artists are still at La Scala, still performing with the NY Phil, still doing the things they’ve always done to build their career. Also consider its role in making classical music more accessible. It’s influence could help drive people to the concert halls, unless every musician walks out. It’d just be another example of classical musicians fighting to stay inaccessible and out of step with modern society which might inevitably lead to its death. Spotify is what the radio was. It’s what buying sheet music and playing on the piano was. Our chance to adapt to changing times and hopefully let more people experience the beauty that we know and understand.

          • The following just appeared on Music Week and is worth reading

            There is much sense in the responses in this blog, but the odds are still heavily against artists, composers and others in the supply chain getting their fair share of daylight robbery of the billions going in the cash-register. It is obvious that many customers love streaming and downloading, and from their point of view why shouldn’t they?

            Our company shifted its business models and methods several years ago specifically to adjust to the needs of our clients as they have evolved. We record many more live events than we did even in the 1990′s, and we do a whole lot more video than we did in the 1990′s and 2000′s. We had been doing high-quality video for decades but few traditional record companies even asked for the content, let alone used it. Now not only do we produce video programme content, but also we produce YouTube-ready web-content for nearly every project as a marketing aid. We have a lot of experience and technology for creating high-res audio for critical listeners, but the sales figures are not really sustainable for the labels with whom we do business and are no match for all the talk on the audiophile blogs demanding high-res formats.

            The fact remains that someone has to pay for new high-quality recordings. If they are chamber music then artists may well decide off their own initiative to do their own thing. With orchestral music or opera, it is trickier and I worry about how up and coming artists will find themselves making high-quality new recordings. For the moment several of the orchestras allocate some of their government funding or sponsors’ donations in the cause of “extended audience” or “digital audience”. However this sort of funding is under pressure as more governments pursue austerity programme to deal with national debts, and some traditional sponsors are also under pressure.

            We’ll see. Book publishing and newspaper publishing face comparable challenges, as do authors and journalists. Under pressure the Spotifys, Googles, Amazons and Apples of this world talk the talk about being fair to creatives, but in my experience it is almost all talk while their main business is running to the bank making hay while the sun shines. They are oblivious of the damage they are doing to creatives, and sadly ‘quality’ is usually some way down their list of priorities.

        • By way of a follow-up, one of the newspapers reporting this story had a graphic suggesting that artists receive 0.2p per stream for a Spotify stream compared to 8p per download from iTunes.
          This doesn’t seem too poor – a purchased track compares to 40 streams of the same track. If you bought it and like it enough, I reckon you will play it 40 times in a lifetime, so there isn’t such a discrepancy between these two delivery models either.

      • “Tony says” – how many radio plays would your classical release have gotten? Was it more than on Spotify? Streaming is becoming an evolution of radio, and their fees/payouts are similar to radio licensing. Dogging on streaming services and payouts is a pretty short-term strategy. In other countries around the world, we are seeing trend correlations that as streaming percentages increase, so do physical product purchasing percentages (physical product still making more than digital downloads). That means, that you as an artist are getting money from a platform similar to a radio station (and let’s face the fact that most NEW classical releases don’t get a lot of airplay on modern classical stations) and a platform you can leverage as promotion (embed those Spotify tracks into your website next to purchasing buttons). That is 10 measly bucks you wouldn’t have had otherwise, and who knows what it meant for the person listening. It could have resulted in a CD sale, a Facebook “like”, a new concert-goer, or, it could mean you received a little money from someone browsing who realized they weren’t interested. Either way, it’s not the end of the world.

        • Thank you for your ‘dogging’ note. The term ‘dogging’ means something rather rude and indecorous here in the UK of which you might not be aware as a non-Brit, but it is very funny and in some ways appropriate a term even if misplaced in innocence. Radio plays in the UK as far as classical music is concerned do not amount to a lot unless you are on the Classic FM playlist with suitable repertoire – and in that situation the radio station pays more than the pittance Spotify does.

          Classical new releases help profile and/or create revenue from sales driven by concerts, that is pretty much all we have left. The rest is nothing but a valued service for listeners which makes billions for Apple, Amazon, Google and Spotify but wilfully bypasses paying the creatives. I have read through all the rhetoric about the importance of embracing new media and the joy of streaming, neither of which point is in question nor dispute, nor ever was. What is in dispute is the self-endowed rights of greedy US media companies helping themselves to the work of creatives and not paying us properly. They are the first to parachute dozens of lawyers to protect their own rights, but when it comes to us and ours they could not give a monkey’s.

          Where is the argument? Ten dollars for ten thousand plays on Spotify will not pay the daily congestion charge for one musician to drive to a recording session in London. We are not asking for more from subscribers, just a few more crumbs from the table of the new electronic distributors.

          • No, you need more consumers. Look at classical record sales in the UK, where a number-1-selling core classical album might only shift 120 units. Yes, one hundred and twenty. Or a no.20 album fewer than fifty units, the sales levels are pitiful.
            Classical recording are simply not relevant or appealing to most of the 70m inhabitants of the UK. Engaging a wider audience or finding a reason for them to desire the product is how to get out of the mess.
            Please, Tony, also be careful with facts – Amazon makes barely any profit, and has been loss-making for years. Streaming might bring them revenue (as does anything they sell by definition), but not “billions in profit”. That’s just sounding the dog-whistle of evil corporation against poor little musician. The real struggle is the musician persuading anyone that they actually want to buy the product or listen to them.

          • “Streaming might bring them revenue (as does anything they sell by definition), but not “billions in profit”. That’s just sounding the dog-whistle of evil corporation against poor little musician. The real struggle is the musician persuading anyone that they actually want to buy the product or listen to them.”

            History and facts do not bear you out. Look at Apple’s offshore cash-pile and Google’s profits which are both certainly in their billions. Amazon’s business model has been to take High Street retail head-on which required funding an infrastructure and spending cash destroying the competition as Amazon did last Christmas in finally crushing HMV. One of Amazon’s main advantages over established businesses has been to dodge UK V.A.T. wherever possible, and to dodge UK Corporation Tax wherever possible.

            Quite why music-lovers consider themselves justified in having a laugh encouraging the empoversihment of creatives to the benefit of enriching US tax-dodging sales/marketing enterprises defeats me. Maybe it is just to be contrary, maybe because you assume all of us are shooting a line and drive round in Ferraris. I simply do not understand, so as this topic disappears below Norman Lebrecht’s current blog horizon, it should probably stop. Your blind loyalty to US corporate business greed is impressive, but plain daft if you enjoy new recordings and nurturing new talent. You have proved your point – hooray!

          • @Tony

            I honestly have no idea what “dogging” means in the UK – please forgive my ignorance/use of US slang. Once again, you have brought up the idea of making a living off of Spotify royalties. I think that’s missing the point. Much like very few artists are able to live purely off of radio royalties, so will very few (if any) make a living off of streaming service royalties. There needs to be a shift in thinking from many artists on how to use and benefit from streaming. Not to mention that recordings that are available for free streaming see significant drops in pirating — which is better, zero dollars, or ten? In the article referenced above, Mr. Yorke needs to be called out for what this all really is — a great marketing ploy. How many non-Radiohead fanatics were dialed in to what “Atoms for Peace” was doing before he pulled out and got headlines around the globe? Did Mr. Yorke do this because he is a starving artist? No, he’s a smart one.

            Streaming services need to be seen as tools, and beneficial tools at that. I’ve worked with labels that have partnered with different Spotify apps for promotion, and seen a direct correlation between the Spotify promotion and physical CD sales – and to boot, the label made money (albeit not much) from each of those promotional streams. Not the worst thing in the world.

            Also, being upset at google for YouTube streaming is extremely short-sighted. Those payouts are better and more frequent to labels and artists than you might think. (If you’re not being matched with third-party content, it’s time to add ISRCs to your videos or talk to your distributor)

            Should Spotify, Pandora, etc. pay more out to artists? Yes. Absolutely. Does the current state of payouts mean it’s time take your ball and go home? No.

          • No, Tony, this doens’t stack up.
            Apple’s cash reserves are not a result of their music segment.
            Google’s certainly aren’t either – their music service is very new and most likely costing them a fortune to set up and maintain currently; so a non-issue here.

            As for Amazon, I don’t recall much VAT avoidance on their part (though there were other retailers), and it’s small in any case. Amazon certainly do not “dodge” UK corporation tax, despite a wish from certain campaigners to make us all think so. The UK’s dual-taxation treaty with Luxembourg is very exacting, and very clear, on what constitutes a requirement to pay tax and what does not, and it very clear on the definition of the companies that are and are not required to do so. This has been clear from it’s signature back in 1968 (I think), under a nominally socialist Labour government, so it’s not worthwhile trying to pretend it’s all the fault of those corporate-loving Tories either. Sorry, Amazon pays what it should, like it or not. Paying extra would land it in trouble for failing to fulfil its duties to its shareholders.

            So that’s that dealt with – using that inconvenient history and facts. Ah well.
            As I say, the issue is not how you feel some corporation ought to be taxed – the issue is that there simply isn’t a demand from listeners to buy new classical releases.

          • Hi Anon,

            I don’t see much point in perpetuating this discussion – because it is not a discussion which will ever go anywhere. I had an in-law in Wisconsin with whom we always ended up agreeing to differ, though not in matters related to the music industry, mainly about the gun lobby in the States which Europeans like me cannot get to grips with. That you cannot accept nor respect the point of view of a professional is unfortunate, but your prerogative.

            Without iTunes the Apple package including its high-margin hardware would lose its gravity in the marketplace. Apple was wise to invest in this way, but there is no possibility that in the long term Apple runs iTunes as a charity nor as a loss-leader despite the high initial setting up costs. As for dodgy tax and VAT arrangements of Apple, Google and Amazon you do not need to take my word for it – they have been covered in great detail in the British media, in EU media and in House of Commons Committees. Apple is in tax ‘complications’ in the US as well. A lot of their cash-pile is locked away in offshore tax-havens much as Ed Snowden was stuck at Moscow Airport.

            I am not in denial, nor am I sat on the beach commanding the tide not to come in. However people like you who think they understand everything do no justice to artists. A deal with Spotify is like a contract with Groucho Marx where you end up with 1pc of 10pc except on days with a ‘y’. We all find ways to keep the bills paid and I have never relied on royalties, but a lot of projects we take on should be revenue-earners for our clients if the electronic music distribution system were less greedy. The move to streaming is shaving even more of the revenue.

          • Tony, I certainly respect your point of view; I just happen to think differently.

            As far as Amazon et al are concerned, for sure there has been a great deal of coverage in British media – but all of it of the wailing, teeth-gnashing, isn’t-it-unfair kind, rather than any decent analysis. As you can see if you look at it closer, there’s a reason these companies haven’t paid much tax, and it is usually because they don’t owe any under current laws. As an example, I gave you Amazon, where the law is abundantly clear, and they are not even trying to use a ‘loophole’ or other fancy scheme – the 1968 dual taxation treaty says what it says, and defines them the way it defines them. That is that. You and the Guardian can dislike it all you want, but they do seem to comply with the law – both the letter thereof and the spirit of it. If you don’t like the law, that’s a different matter.

            And Apple began it’s re-invigoration long before iTunes began, let alone was successful. I believe the current line-up of APple products would be with us whether iTunes existed or it was all a third party software (aside, perhaps, from the iPod). Even if not, Classical music just isn’t important on this stage.

            All this is off-topic, I realise, but I mention it to address your “why should we support the greedy billionaires” argument, which I believe is a red herring. We should be looking to see what can be done to pay musicians as much as we can; but in the absence of another successful streaming service that pays musicians substantially more than Spotify, we are forced to conclude that theirs is a business model which works, and maybe paying any more out to the content creators just wouldn’t work.
            I see a lot of moaning and “it’s not fair, we want some of the money they have” about this topic – and not a lot of solutions.

  3. There are people who stopped to buy CDs because in Spotify is everything there.. so if you don’t have a contract with a major label including presence in all kind of media you are leaving visibility, even “findability”- you are not existing..
    So I think there is no choice. You will not get a heavy spotify user to leave his favourite place and buy your CD unless he already is a hardcore fan especially of you- and who of the smaller or indie classical artists has this kind of fan base big enough to make a living?

    I really would like to see some classical music sales charts without this crossover projects and with the real number of sales… which classical musician is getting rich with CDs???

  4. As a relatively new fan of classical music, Spotify has been a godsend. It has allowed me to listen to everything from full operas to entire symphony collections, and everything in between — and I’ve bought a lot of music because of that access. With recorded operas often costing more than $20, having a chance to sample what’s out there has been crucial not only for building a personal collection, but widening my own personal taste. If I’m gonna drop $$$ for a complete set of Beethoven’s symphonies, I want to know what I’m getting, and want to listen to as many sets as possible before making a decision. (FYI: I went with Gardiner /ORR). And knowing the music and the artists has also encouraged me to attend more live performances — again, something I wouldn’t normally do because going to the symphony or opera is rather expensive. Spotify made all of that possible, I would be lost without it.

    • I just googled my name on Spotify–apparently, they have my recordings. Perhaps they increase visibility somewhat, however, do they increase sales of the same cds? Not sure if one can calculate that. But, in this world of everyone doing everything, and that classical artists, for the most part, do not get rich on cd sales, it can only help sell concert tickets when we perform in various cities. On the other hand, if the freebies on Spotify are well-liked, not only will the Spotify audience recognize our names when we come through their city to perform, they can buy the very same cds at our concerts and get them signed personally. There are pros and cons in everything—everything.

  5. Timon Wapenaar says:

    The physical distribution model is dead. The online distribution model is broken. The gold standard for music remains the live performance.

    • I agree. I stream music on Spotify and rarely buy CD or LP. BUT I put money on live events (concerts, festivals, operas) that cost MUCH more.

      • Hear hear. Would also add that I’ve ceased, unless necessary, buying recordings from major labels that treat their customers with contempt – opera recordings without libretti (or libretti supposedly published online – but no longer actually there in reality), no artist biographies, desultory 300 word sleevenotes.

        The labels that still get my money are those like Hyperion, who show a genuine commitment to their artists, their repertoire and their public. Meanwhile, the real deal is live music. There’s no excuse for piracy but the sad fact is that classical musicians who still expect to generate substantial income from recordings are living in the wrong century. That horse has long since bolted.

  6. Lightdrink says:

    That’s why i do believe in other solutions, such as Qobuz (a french service) which provides musical streaming (lossless) AND HQ downloads. It creates a mixed use : people discovering new tracks can buy them in high quality (by high quality, i don’t just mean “better than iTunes”, but even “better than CD quality”). And the most amazing part of this is that it actually works ! A huge difference with other actors of online music. Nowadays, streaming is still a tiny part of the musical industry (0.7 B). A proof that downloading isn’t dead yet. But streaming is not an ennemy. Actually, a 4,99$ monthly subscription isn’t enough to pay the artists, i agree. It seems quite incredible to get all the music of the world for less than 10$. It’s even cheaper than ONE physical album !
    Business models must (and can) live together, and create VALUE, for the artists and all the industry.

  7. Steve Foster says:

    I think the bigger issue is the lack of talent. In the age of the 1-hit wonder, what’s the incentive to invest in a musician / artist if they’re just going to disappear in six months? There have been many times I’ve come across a song I like on Spotify and just bookmarked it for later listening. I can’t be bothered with buying the album since it’s usually just a vehicle for the one song that got my attention in the first place. The rest of the album being shit. Everyone should get a chance, of course. But this is just more proof there are too many of them out there.

    • It’s not a lack of talent, it’s a lack of recognized talent. Don’t make the mistake of blaming the artists when their careers aren’t in their control. They were discovered by someone, which allows them to get big, but also puts them under the discoverers thumb for life. And they only choose people that are sellable. The talented artists are rarely the most sellable, especially by todays standards. Most of the real talent is unsigned and undeveloped, which leads to the perceived lack of quality.

  8. Keith McCarthy says:

    Just to clarify…Thom Yorke pulled his solo music from Spotify, NOT Radiohead’s, which is controlled by EMI and remains on Spotify. Yorke’s producer, Nigel Goodrich, said that Yorke receives .06 pence per stream, equaling 3,800 pounds sterling per million streams (Goodrich’s math) — you read that right, per million streams. Very few artists ever aggregate a million or more streams, and clearly a million streams benefits Spotify exponentially more than it does the artist(s)…

  9. Keith McCarthy says:

    Sorry for the typo, Goodrich said that Yorke receives .04 pence per stream.

  10. Zach wrote: “…That provides a myriad of interpretations from which we can base our own on.”
    Sorry, original interpretation comes from understanding the score, not from cutting and pasting X, Y and Z. Nuance!

  11. In answer to David.

    First of all “Dogging” in the UK is something you would not like to know much about most probably. Best discussed privately but to be essentially brief it involves a regularised practice or hobby observing mainly in-car sexual activities of others, usually late at night.

    Moving swiftly on. I have decided to abandon ship on trying to explain what seems so very obvious why music creatives are inclined to pursue the idea that they should be paid fairly for their labours. In past times we sold recordings and got a cut, albeit often a modest one. In present times our recordings are sold and we do not get a cut or such a small cut as would not buy a BigMac and fries. You seem happy with the concept because it works for you, and it is probably equally unreconcilable that those who are unpaid are unhappy about it. We all do a lot of work gratis, pro bono, whatever you choose to call it. However the choice to do work gratis, pro bono is rarely specifically to benefit enormously rich execs and shareholders of big dodgy US companies making billions in profits – even more so when they do not pay tax.

  12. I now notice that days after gaining a lot of press attention for pulling out of Spotify, citing low royalties for artists, Thom Yorke appears to have set up his own streaming service. A cynic might suggest the media storm was less about artist royalties at Spotify, and more about promoting a new streaming service of Thom’s – and for which, conveniently, he fails to tell us what he proposes paying the artists who’s content is streamed. Ho hum.

  13. Again to my point that, yes, artists should be paid more (but that will take U.S. regulation to raise radio licensing minimums) for streaming, but pulling out altogether is a short-term strategy, here’s a new report to read:

    “At the other end of the spectrum, Spotify holdouts suffered higher levels of piracy: Rihanna’s Unapologetic and Taylor Swift’s Red sold only 1 copy per BitTorrent download.”

  14. Wonderful collection, Eric, appreciate it. Bookmarked and shared :)

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