Monday, October 14, 2013

Thom, Spotify, and Balmorhea

Thom Yorke continues to go off on Spotify. Positioning himself as the (extremely well-off) David to Spotify's Goliath, Thom has repeatedly attacked the Spotify/streaming model of music consumption as the death of the music industry saying recently:

          "This isn't the mainstream, this is like the last fart, last desperate fart of a dying corpse." 

The interview was given to a Mexican site and they translated it into the "last breath," but whether the air comes from above or below is insignificant; Thom doesn't like what he's seeing. While this multimillionaire superstar, who got rich and incredibly successful off the "old" the model of the music industry, does always make some good points, I feel like we'll look back on his fart quote in 50 years and laugh, just as we do with other quotes from old rich white people, for example from an executive at Deccan Records who said, while describing his reason not the sign the Beatles:

          "Groups of guitars were on the way out."

While I do agree with Thom that the music industry is in many ways broken, I don't see Spotify as a symptom of the disease but rather as a potential solution to the problem. I believe that instead of being the great devil, the decentralized model of Spotify should be further embraced and artists should break free of the major record labels (whose business models I see as the primary player in the industry's "decline") and instead use every method available to take their music to the masses, whether it be Spotify, Rdio, Bandcamp, etc. The supply of music available at my fingertips has increased immensely in the past few years and unless an artist is harnessing every method of showcasing their music to potentials fans, they're playing a losing game. This model, of course, doesn't work as well with the big names like Kanye whose records and shows will always sell. But it does with bands like Balmorhea.

The other day I saw a post from a friend recommending that everyone she knows in Madrid should go to see the Austin, Texas based group Balmorhea when they came to town this past Sunday. I had never heard of them but was enticed by the recommendation, the concert hall, and the cheap ticket. I was immediately able to find them on Spotify and had their entire discography at my fingertips, legally. Each time I played their music I supported them financially (although a miniscule amount I know) but the main appeal was the instantaneous nature of me "finding" them. Fifteen years ago I would have had to go to a record store and hoped they had a Balmorhea album; ten, I would have probably scoured the murky hallways of Kazaa; five, I likely would have torrented a song or two and if I really really liked them, bought a song of theirs or their album. On Friday I browsed through a couple of their top songs on Spotify, realized instantly that man these guys are good, bought the tickets, and went to the show. 

And you know what? They're shockingly good live. Playing minimalistic progressive rock while engaged in an almost literal game of musical chairs, the six ultra talented musicians of Balmorhea constantly astonished the crowd with layers of lush sounds, at times switching instruments multiple times a song. Until recently the decision process would have been much much harder for me to go see them; with Spotify it was instant and effortless. I left the show with a great music buzz last night and  Balmorhea got two extra fans at the show and free press now. While perhaps Spotify doesn't make sense for the Thoms or the Kanyes, there is a world of musicians who, using Spotify and other such platforms correctly, can forge a sustainable path for themselves, adapting and embracing changing technology rather than fighting it. 

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