Long ago — something like 10 years ancient — there were only a couple of ways to get your hands on that song stuck in your head. Either pray to the spirit of Carson Daly that MTV spins the music video before the next commercial break, or go out to your local record store, fish your wallet for some cash and rip open the plastic wrapping of a CD.
Lost you? Today, you can perform a Google search and find out what a CD looks like. Music is omnipresent now, no longer confined to retailers or radio deejays. More importantly, free music is omnipresent. Streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and even YouTube grant access to billions of songs at no surface cost, and even a paid subscription to a site often just broaches three figures. Take the $120 annual cost of a Spotify Premium membership, divide it by how many tracks you listen to over the course of a year, and the result comes out to fractions of a cent.
The same fractions of a cent that artists are receiving for their music.
Radiohead's Thom Yorke became the first platinum musician to openly rip Spotify and related third-party streaming sites through a barrage of tweets Monday. Producer Nigel Godrich joined in.
Yorke noted that Radiohead's 2007 name-your-price LP, In Rainbows, was "a statement of trust." Spotify, it seems, is breaking that trust with its artists. While the company claims it's going to shell out $1 billion in royalties, the fact remains that struggling musicians without major-label backing rely on slivers of pennies as retribution.
It's easy to write off Radiohead's stance as irrelevant. Nearly every popular act these days has some outspoken message to relay, and a few strokes of the keyboard from rock stars doesn't seem to have much clout in the real world. Radiohead's discography is still on Spotify — it's Yorke's side projects and solo work that got pulled — and one artist doesn't make much of a dent in Spotify's massive library.
But Yorke and Godrich's protest has the potential to be quite impactful. Musicians couldn't have asked for a better representative in Radiohead, who carries a near-obsessive fan base, a healthy social media following and a respected and extensive history in the industry. Radiohead will make people listen--fans are already exploring the matter themselves and continuing the fight 140 characters at a time.
The experimental British rockers open the door for others to voice their complaints, and as Yorke's story is picked up everywhere from the Atlantic to the New York Times, an important conversation is born. Radiohead won't cloud their argument with dollar signs or dotted lines. The band has more than enough money, and its members admit that. What they're doing, as Yorke pointed out, is using their platform and audience to inspire fairness.
Most significantly, there's still that dent in Spotify's streaming empire. Its users now know that some musicians don't want their music on the server, and they also know that the service they're using is frowned upon by perhaps the very artist they want to support. There's a good chance you were blissfully unaware of musicians' exploitation or the shareholders' influence.
There's something missing from Spotify now, and it's not just Yorke's Atoms for Peace project. Not everyone's 100%t on board with the implications of the free streaming of music, and even if it took something as big as Radiohead for people to realize that, it's still a start. Yorke and Godrich are right on the money with their accusations, money that's way more than a half-penny per play.