special disco mention #4: Thom Yorke


Stick it to the man! Sometimes heroes spring from unlikely places and take on the unlikeliest of forms. Who’d of thought, for example, that little Eddie Milliband would be champion of the fight for common decency against the attack dog  of the right, the Daily Mail? Most people (myself included) are probably surprised that Ed isn’t an avid reader of the old hate-filled rag himself, such is his seemingly insatiable desire to re-invent the labour party as the nu-tories. But there he is, calling them out, shouting them down.

The same can be said of Thom Yorke’s fight against the money-grubbing bastards of the music industry. Taking it upon himself, almost single handedly, to shed light on the appalling (for musicians and labels, anyway) business model that streaming sites such as Spotify have adopted, Thom has re-cast himself as an ambassador for financial fair play in the industry. With a bank balance probably larger than the entire GDP of most Central American countries, a huge legion of fans, a solid legacy and a first-class reputation, the last thing that Thom really needs is a fight with a music industry behemoth. 

So, to come out fighting, calling Spotify ‘The last desperate fart of a dying corpse’, spitting feathers and firing expletives, Thom proved himself, once agian, to be anything but your average millionaire musician. 

And this is why he deserves this week’s glass of fine Cava – Whatever the implication of sites like Spotify on the music economy, it’s safe to say that Thom’s bank balance is pretty safe. His motivation is probably not financial. Nor does it seem driven by the kind of jesus complex motivating the likes of Bono.  He’s actually fighting for the rights of the independents, the minnows: the songwriters, producers, musicians and labels who have no money, no power, no influence. Which is wholly unusual: for a monied, powerful and influential person to actually give two shits about the grass roots of their industry. But, then, he’s an unusual character, our Thom.

If he’s not moshing out to one of his wholly unfashionable Dj sets on Boiler Room…. he can be found calling out David Cameron’s political promises as a ‘Bag-O-Shite’ on his twitter, raising awareness of climate issues, or just dancing like a nutter. 

He’s attacked Spotify before, but he’s at it again, only this time with more vigor. The thing with Spotify is, it’s great to have so much music at your fingertips and they do, of course, pay royalties to musicians, but the income the vast majority of musicians stand to earn is so small, so pitiful, that even the big hitters, who have their tracks streamed millions of times, end up with forty pence in their quarterly pay check. As the likes of Morgan Geist have said before: They’d rather the music on their label was illegally downloaded, at least that way there is an illegitimacy to what’s happening – a wild west that pretends to be nothing other than what it is, compared to the multi-million pound profiteering and miserly pay out attitude of Spotify.

As Yorke says, the road that Spotify are taking music down is the road that leads to musicians never being paid a proper wage, and, ultimately, musicians not being able to put in the time and dedication required to make music of the quality we’ve come to expect. So, art suffers, artists suffer and, as a knock on, so does everyone else who enjoys music. Spotify are recording millions of pounds of profit every quarter, and persistently refer back to the figures they pay out – which sound healthy combined, but translate into a mere pittance when broken down: The news that Lady Gaga received $162 for 1 million streams is now the stuff of urban legend. Of course, the evil of Spotify needs to be put into perspective – the music industry has been in a financial fug for a long time and this isn’t entirely down to streaming sites. The point is, that Thom Yorke has identified them as harmful to the little folk of the industry, harmful to music itself and he’s sticking up for those things, using his position to make a crucial point and, in his own strange way, sticking it to the man.

So, for standing up for musicians, and being so colourful and carefree with his language in the process, we think Thom Yorke is deserved of the doff of our hat this week. Salute!