Radiohead's Thom Yorke Predicts Record Labels Have Months, Not Years, Left To Live

from the bit-of-an-exaggeration dept

Ruby writes in to alert us to an interview with Radiohead's Thom Yorke, where he tells young musicians not to sign with a major record label because they're completely dying, and in the very near future:
Yorke claims the mainstream music industry is dying and that this will be "no great loss to the world" before telling aspiring musicians not to tie themselves to the "sinking ship".

Yorke suggests it will be "only a matter of time -- months rather than years -- before the music business establishment completely folds"
That seems like a hefty exaggeration. While it is true that the one major label that Yorke has worked with, EMI, may end up "going under" in the next few months (more likely, it will get bought out), the other three major record labels, while struggling, aren't going anywhere in a matter of months. The key point that he makes, though, is valid: young musicians today don't need the major record labels -- and, in many cases, it's quite risky for artists to sign a deal that locks them to such a label for many years. That is not to say that record labels can't help artists or that they're not needed. For some (perhaps many) artists, labels can be quite helpful. But, with the industry in flux right now, the major labels might not be the best place to go to try to build a career. Yes, they have marketing experience, but more and more indie acts are figuring out how to break out without the majors, and the "cost" of signing with a major is quite high in terms of control, rights and ability to experiment both artistically and at the business level.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 12:55pm

    Wishful thinking

    This seems like a bit of wishful thinking. The labels look like they are doing OK for now. Of course, the Titanic looked great up until the last hour or so.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Ccomp5950 (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:04pm

      Re: Wishful thinking

      RIAA's revenue reports...

      Year: $ in Millions (revenue)
      1992: 9024
      1993: 10046.6 (CD players started to get more affordable towards mid-year)
      1994: 12068
      1995: 12320.3
      1996: 12533.8
      1997: 12236.8
      1998: 13723.4 (Napster sued into bankruptcy)
      1999: 14651 (Work made for hire controversy)
      2000: 14404
      2001: 13700 (Ipod came out October 2001)
      2002: 12,614.2 (Price Fixing lawsuit hits RIAA)
      2003: 11,854.4 (Grokster lawsuit, "induced infringement" introduced) (Mass lawsuits by RIAA start(AKA: The education campaign))
      2004: 12,345.0 [Revenue Digital / Physical] (BMG gets out of the music business, sold to Sony later on: Big 5 becomes Big 4 for RIAA)
      2005: 12,296.9 [9%/91%]
      2006: 11,758.2 [83.9%/16.1%]
      2007: 10,370.0 [77%/23%]
      2008: 8,768.4 [66%/34%] (RIAA declares it's going to stop mass lawsuits with member money problems and EMI almost bankrupt)
      2009: 7,690.0 [59%/41%] (Massive layoffs hit RIAA around Febuary: Blames piracy)

      Source:
      http://www.azoz.com/music/features/0008.html (statistics from 90's to 2001)
      http://76.74.24.142/81128FFD-028F-282E-1CE5-FDBF16A46388.pdf (Statistics for 97 to 2007)
      http://76.74.24.142/A200B8A7-6BBF-EF15-3038-582014919F78.pdf (2008-2009)

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Hephaestus (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:25pm

        Re: Re: Wishful thinking

        Pretty cool isnt it. If you chart it out it fails in 3-5 years not months. Thats 2 years before the range I predicted acouple years back.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        interval (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:59pm

        Re: Re: Wishful thinking

        Hey man, nice chart. I'd like to refer to this information myself, is it under a creative commons license?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Ccomp5950 (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 2:05pm

          Re: Re: Re: Wishful thinking

          They are facts, I can't copyright them even if I want to.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            icon
            kirillian (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 2:32pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Wishful thinking

            The information is fact, true, but a case could be made for the particular expression, i.e. the chart(?). So, maybe his question is still appropriate?

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              icon
              Ccomp5950 (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 3:18pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Wishful thinking

              Use it as you like, no attribution necessary to me, however the sources I listed ask that you attribute the RIAA or cite them so you would need to maintain that I believe unless it's like I said, uncopyrightable.

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            icon
            The Groove Tiger (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 4:03pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Wishful thinking

            Just say they're "hot news".

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        BBT, Jun 11th, 2010 @ 7:05am

        Re: Re: Wishful thinking

        "2005: 12,296.9 [9%/91%]
        2006: 11,758.2 [83.9%/16.1%]
        2007: 10,370.0 [77%/23%]
        2008: 8,768.4 [66%/34%] (RIAA declares it's going to stop mass lawsuits with member money problems and EMI almost bankrupt)
        2009: 7,690.0 [59%/41%] (Massive layoffs hit RIAA around Febuary: Blames piracy)"

        Are you sure you got this correct?

        going from 9%/91% to 83.9%/16.1% digital/physical in a single year doesn't sound right. And then physical's share has been increasing ever since? Surely you meant to label it "physical/digital" and the 9/91 entry is supposed to be 91/9?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Jun 11th, 2010 @ 7:36am

          Re: Re: Re: Wishful thinking

          I could see how physicals could be making a comeback with vinyl special editions, boxed sets, etc.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    bradmoreso (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:06pm

    re: Wishful thinking

    +1 spot on

    I think the "months to live" points more toward the old, clunky cycle of signing artists, setting them up, introducing them to the army of label employees who'll develop, manage, market the band's "brand" ... I think the lag between "acquisition of talent" and "full exploitation of talent" is too long, too costly to sustain relevance.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Ima Fish (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:23pm

    I'll give the labels until 2013.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Hephaestus (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      Ima - "I'll give the labels until 2013."

      You know you might be right ... I didnt take into account the revenue - expense part of the equation.

      What should be suggested to current big name artists is an apprenticeship program for up and comers. It might make the failure less harsh and allow us to keep a steady stream of no talent pop stars around to make fun of ....

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Jay (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

      ???

      How did you make the link wrap into 2013?

      BTW, great article, I'm reading it and love how the musicians can finally gain control of their copyrights from corporate hands.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:39pm

        Re: ???

        "How did you make the link wrap into 2013? "

        Everyone's going to die December 26th 2012? :P

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          interval (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 2:00pm

          Re: Re: ???

          Damn! I was gonna go there.

          GODWIN!

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Deadlyassassin, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 11:20am

          Re: Re: ???

          wow we are all going to die December 26 2012 are you smoking crack yes i know all about the so called prophets and their calender and so forth here's a list of reasons why that wont happen.

          #1 you remember the Y2K bug that was supposed to wipe all the computers out, it didn't happen.

          #2 we are more likely to get destroyed by global warming.

          #3 we are also more likely to die because of a solar flare-when a meteorite comes flying out at us and then burns everything

          #4 if your life is so pathetic that u wish all the rest of us death then please by all mean shut up and deal with it.

          #5 your more likely to have a earthquake or natural disaster hit and kill you.

          #6 you have a higher chance getting hit by a car then to be 100% correct no one knows when this earth is going to die so by all mean please you depressing the rest of us with your doomsday crap.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        senshikaze (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:56pm

        Re: ???

        you can do html tags like a an i and stuff.
        See?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      seymour butts, Jun 10th, 2010 @ 2:25pm

      Re:

      I give the whole WORLD until 2013. After that, it's anyone's game. Game meaning world catastrophy!

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:39pm

    Here is a question(s) ....

    What happens to the record labels catalogs when the last label fails? There is no way to make a profit off the catalogs, no matter how little it costs, due to the contractual obligations with the artists.

    Also

    What happens to the unrecouped part of the artists contract does it go away does it become an item billable back to the artist? The labels have done some sleazy stuff in the past.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    senshikaze (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 1:54pm

    kill the RIAA

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2010 @ 2:26pm

    thom yorke is more than happy to piss on the label system that made him both a star and a rich man. he would likely have a different opinion if he had a mcjob like the rest of his "fans".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 2:35pm

    I don't think the major labels will ever truly "fail". But, I do think that they will struggle to get new artists - especially after one "unsigned" artist manages to hit it big (and I think it's only a matter of time).

    What will most likely happen is that EMI will fail and have its back catalogue bought up by the other majors, then they will further merge until we just have one or two majors who concentrate mostly on back catalogue titles. The massive reduction in business will force them to actually come up with a viable business plan for the 21st century, and they will re-emerge with carrots on stick such as "want to sample record X or work with one of the few artists we still have signed? Sign a one album deal with us. Trust us :)."

    I'd say this will happen over the next decade, but only if the lawmakers stop trying to prop them up. Actually, I think this would already have happened to some degree if it wasn't so easy for them to complain about "piracy" rather than give customers what they want (no, dumbasses, preventing Amazon from selling to Spain from their EU stores does not help business in Spain).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Hephaestus (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 6:02pm

      Re:

      "no, dumbasses, preventing Amazon from selling to Spain from their EU stores does not help business in Spain"

      That is one I hadnt heard, pretty funny though. The short sightedness of that decision. It probably went something like this.

      Exec 1 - "Screw our partners in spain, or screw our customers in spain?"

      Exec 2 - "Screw the customers the partners make us money."

      Janitor - "You guys are idiots"

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Peter (profile), Jun 10th, 2010 @ 2:54pm

    the inevitable failure of the big recording companies

    What, after all, do they offer other than top-flight recording technology and the capacity to distribute music? They once owned those in other ways others could not without prohibitive amounts of money. Now, the recording technology and even better and cheaper means of distribution are available to anyone with a laptop. That's why I think their demise is inevitable.

    I suppose we'll have to replace what else they did offer -- A&R and publicity, but doing those things well do not require the enormous overhead they are saddled with.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2010 @ 5:46pm

    in a related story, thom yorke is scheduled to be irrelevant to modern music in a few months as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    JennyM, Jun 10th, 2010 @ 5:47pm

    Karma...

    If the major record labels had ever played fair with artists. If the major labels hadn't sat on their backsides re-releasing vinyl back catalogues on CD, then remastering and re-re-releasing them, and making us pay full price each time. If the labels hadn't been run by the greediest, most dysfunctional set of unlovely rapacious lowlifes it has ever been my misfortune to have to work for. If they had ever cared more for music than they did for their expense accounts and their sex and their drugs.
    Then, and only then, would I weep one small tear for the demise of the majors.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Peter, Jun 10th, 2010 @ 7:33pm

    Smells like natural selection. Good riddance!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Paul S, Jun 18th, 2010 @ 4:11pm

    Tour support

    As a former member of a signed band and a current member of an unsigned one, I can tell you that one way big labels still have some power is in tour support. Booking large venues and packing them with people doesn't just 'happen', especially when you're on your first few tours and few have heard of you. Then there is the advertising support which is very difficult when you go it alone, try getting your song played or an interview on the Clear Channel network or through cable TV, it's damned near impossible.

    The corporate model will hopefully die off (and I hope it does as it's the scourge of music), but until people can figure out how to do these things themselves they will always have those advantages.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Rob Wallace, Jun 23rd, 2012 @ 5:25am

    Success

    Our label was created and gets music published and distributed for the exact reasons Thom Yorke speaks to. We are marketing for musicians and we are musicians. Like Thom, we have witnessed the decline and how the nature of music buyers has changed.

    Example: why buy the whole CD when you really only like one track? What is the future of the Jewel Case. Answer: Not long.

    This is a great time for Indie Labels, we couldn't be more pleased.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This