David Byrne explains the streaming music ripoff

I’m always conflicted about this argument, and I agree with parts of it. But by the same token, if people are getting stupid rich off the product, the workers that produce it should get a fair share of the rewards.

If the issue is that the workers are receiving a sufficiently fair wage already, then the price should be lowered–with the workers still receiving the same wage. But that would never happen.


It depends on the service. Pandora is similar to terrestrial and satellite stations in that you specify a song or artist that you want a station built around. You have a bit more control than radio because you are allowed a certain number of skips.

Spotify, Google Music, Apple Music all allow you to play whatever you want on demand.

there doesn’t seem to be any incentive to ever buy music.

I bet there’s a lot of people like me. For the past 20 years I would buy maybe 3 CDs every year spending $50-$60. Now I’m spending $10 / month on Spotify and $5 / month on Pandora. I’m spending 3x as much money on music now. The difference is, three artists used to get a relatively large royalty when I bought CDs and now probably 20 artists get a smaller piece of a bigger pie.


To an extent, I agree with this this. Yes, they’re making pennies per many plays, but they expend zero effort and resources on those plays. That being said, neither do the labels. So I actually understand less why the label should be compensated than I do why the artist should be. I also fail to see how the model is in any way the fault of the technology and the listener.

The real problem is our economy is based on fucked-up ideas of “worth,” which is always nebulously justified in whatever context suits the status-quo.


I won’t disagree that our economy is based on fucked up ideas of worth, but I think the more relevant issue here is how concepts and laws established before the recording industry existed, and then manipulated and extended by corporate interests, have created a distortion in the marketplace which, in turn, has created an unrealistic expectation by some artists. It’s time to roll the whole thing back and create a balanced and fair system of copyprivilege.

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Yes, yes and yes.

I love music, and I love great artists - and whenever I discover one I want to make sure I fund their art so that I can continue to enjoy it.


This mindset - that a musician should be paid every time someone listens to their music is absurd!

If I pull up a piece by Gerhard Richter, he doesn’t get a commission - if I view a gallery of photo’s by Ansel Adams his estate doesn’t get 7p.

How does it even make sense to expect that?

If an advert wants to use a score - they license it ($$$), if I want to listen to the artist perform their music, they charge for it ($$$), if a commercial venue wants to play music they have to license it ($$$).

In turn - if a photographer wants to earn money from their art they license it, they have a show/exhibition, they sell postcards. They don’t charge you to gaze at their work.

Streaming is amazing though! If the labels and all those other completely unnecessary middlemen are taking all the money - then artists should have a word with them about it. But leave off streaming, it’s revolutionising your industry and putting your art in front of more people. Any half decent artist would be thrilled with that - only a businessman wouldn’t.

(Authors are a bit of a hazy one though aren’t they? I struggle to rationalise not paying for the actual work in that case - but I know @doctorow has discussed ways to monetise authorship while keeping the text free - but that’s possibly the one artistic outlet that doesn’t fit into that mental model for me, and no, I’m not an author :smile: )


I actually understand less why the label should be compensated than I do why the artist should be

Stop thinking about label and artist and start thinking about rights holder. Artists often choose to sell their rights to a label, but not always.

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Won’t somebody think of the rights-holder?

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David Byrne wrote an entire book about the music business (which is sort of why I don’t dismiss his argument here – I read his book and it’s clear that he knows his shit). And, one thing mentioned in that book is the problems for artists that come out of a misunderstanding of common recording contracts.

The simplified version is this: a record company contract is like a fiction publishing contract, insomuch as the artist signs up for a certain number of publications and then gets a certain amount of money based on a projection of the success of these publications, intended to go toward finishing them. If the publications don’t make as much money as projected, the artist is expected to pay back the difference. A smart and well-informed artist will take the money, sit on it, and spend as little of it as possible on recording and mastering on the off-chance that the album bombs – after all, if the album bombs, they’ll be in debt, while if it exceeds projections, they will be getting royalties on top of everything else. A naive artist (like, say, pretty much every teenage rock band to finally land a record deal between 1960 and 2005) signs a piece of paper he didn’t read, gets a huge check, spends it all on cocaine and hookers, releases an album that nobody likes, and spends the rest of their life in debt to the record company. Even if they later release very popular music, it’s easy for them to get stuck in a pattern where they never pay back their debt to the record company; even if their initial album is very popular, if it is not quite as popular as the record company projection then these artists are stuck, and record companies have been known to inflate projected record sales in order to get artists into their debt. This latter group always appears to be living large but never genuinely has any money – they’re doing the equivalent of living off credit cards; the former group always appears to be very frugal, but actually is making a series of good business decisions and building up savings. There are some members of the second group that might surprise you.

TL;DR: artists are poor as hell, even the popular ones, because they don’t understand contracts.

(There are variant contracts and new business forms that are becoming more popular. Justin Beiber and some other people in the same domain are contracted not with a record company but with a concert promotion company, and have signed a contract that gives creative control to said company – and this is a very good deal for someone who doesn’t particularly have any talent of their own, because the company brings on professionals to do the real work. These artists get a smaller cut, because they do less work, and they don’t get a bunch of money up-front for even proposing a new album, but on the other hand, they get a steady paycheck and the promotion company will handle food, room, and board during tours.)


Fuck that whole concept.


This is not in any way my problem, nor is it the problem of Spotify/Pandora/whomever.

It is the problem of the artists, and their entering into the contracts that permit this sort of fuckery. Unless they signed the contract while seriously stoned or pissed, courtesy of a supplier who works for the label.


And that ‘worth’ has been largely skewed by scarcity, real or induced (raw materials/labour/production/distribution).
The Intertron has railed over that model, and yet the final stragglers (with the most expensive life-jackets) are still trying to bleed the stone.
It must’ve been similar for the many scribes who were put out of work when the printing press arrived.

Since as usual in these threads, I seem to be the only person with experience running small labels, let me point out that Byrne clearly says why the big labels “can ride out a dry spell”. Thats why they survived the disaster of Napster and the resulting devaluation of recorded music which killed off lots of smaller labels. Aside from satisfying market demand for pop music, their existence is in fact justified by their ability to survive downturns and changes in the market.


they expend zero effort and resources on those plays

Does that matter? The price of something has little to do with the cost of production.


Artists of all types really should just do everything for free and never get paid. Cause after all… them getting paid or not isn’t my problem…

“Fuck you. Got mine.”

(end sarcasm.)


For how long do you think they can ride out a dry spell? I see music as becoming democratized and the big labels more reduced to talent-shows and ad-revenue every year.

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I’m on Bandcamp and love it! That is the future of music distribution as far as I’m concerned (Bandcamp and other sites like it).


Performers get to decide if they want to be paid one lump sum or have income trickle in over time. If they want the Spotify money, then they shouldn’t sell those rights to a label.

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Odd, I had thought pop artists satisfied that demand?

I don’t follow your logic here. Are you saying that these labels existence is justified due to the fact that they extract so much money from the work of another person or group that they can go months without income?
Isn’t that like saying the existence of drug lords is justified because they extract so much money from the exploitation of the growers labor that they can go months without getting paid?

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Another vote for Bandcamp here. An artist in NZ I really like released a new CD a couple of years ago and I asked him on twitter which platform benefited him the most (I could have bought the CD, bought the album on iTunes, or bought it via Bandcamp). He told me that Bandcamp is the platform that puts most money in his pocket which allows him to make a living and keep making more music.

Works for me.

I don’t follow this argument. either they are necessary and provide a legitimate value or they do not. having taken so much of the money from artists, way more then their services expenses justify, enough to ride out multiple year gaps, is in fact an argument against their existence NOT for.

I had the exact same thought.