Atoms for Peace – Ingenue

Year :
Radiohead / Battles / Liars

This week Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead and of the recently formed supergroup Atoms for Peace, ignited a firestorm when he announced that Atoms for Peace would be pulling their catalog from the music streaming service Spotify.

Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s acclaimed producer and “sixth member” as well as Atoms for Peace member, joined Yorke in condemning Spotify, with the two claiming outright that they and countless other bands featured on Spotify are essentially victims of shady backroom business dealings. Things hit a fever pitch when the duo aired it out on Twitter (as famous people are wont to do).

Yorke and Godrich’s argument, regardless of the shape of business dealings at Spotify, boils down to this: Artists are paid a pittance when their music is distributed through services like Spotify and Pandora. To me. this much seems obvious but discouraging nevertheless. Naturally, as a fan and a the guy writing this article, I have a vested interest in the availability of music in digital formats at low prices. I want music to keep getting made and I want a convenient way to consume it. Yorke is suggesting that it’s not possible.

And yet, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that there is a certain amount of hot air being blown here. Full disclosure: I am a longtime and self-professed Spotify fanboy, though in no way am I or The Daily Soundtrack paid for endorsing the product. That said, Spotify changed my music listening habits in a way that no single item (including the iPod), before or since, has. To explain:

When I was in my teens (and in the process of amasing a sizable CD collection) I would daydream about how amazing it would be if there was some was magic jukebox that allowed me to play any song and, better still, allow me to take it with me. The arrival of the iPod mad this possible to some extent, though it created a new problem of managing thousands of mp3s and the limited storage of the device itself. Enter Spotify: An extremely well exectuted piece of technology that essentially granted me my wish in one fell swoop. It was the first time in my life where some technology that I wished for actually got created in, more or less, the exact form that I wanted. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it was a dream come true.

By and large, my experiences with Spotify as a music fan have been nothing short of excellent. True that not everything can be found on Spotify (the missing Beatles catalog is still the biggest hole in the Spotify library), but the richness of what is there has never left me wanting for something good to listen to. Missing a record from Atoms for Peace is certainly not going to change my habits.

To that extent, I have to question Yorke’s decision. Radiohead was perhaps the most tech-saavy band of their generation, both in the recording studio and in the marketplace. In Rainbows and its groundbreaking “pay what you want” pricing model confirmed this completely. Given that, Yorke and company must understand that the technology itself can’t be stopped. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. Now that I’ve had the magic jukebox I don’t want to go back.

So why this fight now, and in this form? To make the most crass point, no one has talked about Atoms for Peace this much ever. Frankly, I was underwhelmed by Amok. “Ingenue” stands as a prime example of the bare-bones, mushed-mouth sound of the record. And yet, here it is as today’s song. Put bluntly, this is not a record that I am going miss. Yorke himself has even mused that the effort might be meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

If Yorke really wanted to hit Spotify where it hurts (and take up the fight that he claims he wants) wouldn’t it be a much more powerful move to pull Radiohead’s catalog? Maybe that’s not possible for other reasons, but the sheer fact that it hasn’t really been considered makes the move seem like grandstanding to me.

Easy for me to complain, I suppose—I don’t make a living by selling music. But I do make a living, to a degree, doing computer programming. Having a career tied to technology has taught me that there is no job security in standing still and insisting on doing things they way they’ve always been done. We now live in a new paradigm of music production and consumption. I, as much as anyone, want artists to be able to make a living. But if artists want art to be their job they need to treat it like one. That means there is going to be pressure to innovate, to get better at one’s craft, and to hustle for every opportunity to grow an audience. I firmly believe that if music is good, it will find an audience. Just don’t go out of your way to make it harder for me to listen to your mediocre side project.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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