Radiohead's Thom Yorke Explains How Recording Industry Milked CD Business

from the quotable dept

JJ sends in a short quote from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke about the music business:

“There’s a process of natural selection going on right now. The music business was waiting to die in its current form about twenty years ago. But then, hallelujah, the CD turned up and kept it going for a bit. But basically, it was dead.”

Bingo. The “recording industry” has basically been a “sell plastic discs” industry for way too long, and used the monopoly rents it received from the government to significantly overprice its products, and then lived fat and happy for many years. So, of course, when better, more efficient formats for distribution, recording, promotion and listening came along, it wanted absolutely nothing to do with them, because they didn’t present the same sort of monopoly rents.

And, that, of course has been the point we’ve been trying to make here for quite some time. This has always been a business model issue. The record labels lived off the CD business for so long that it refused to recognize that a better, more efficient system was showing up, because it meant giving up some easy profits.

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Comments on “Radiohead's Thom Yorke Explains How Recording Industry Milked CD Business”

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Rob says:

Re: Fact vs Opinion

I don’t see where this post claims to be anything other than the shared opinions of Thom Yorke and Mike Masnick. I also don’t see how Mr. Yorke’s feelings about “the industry” invalidate his opinion.

Actually, since he’s been dealing with that industry for quite some time I think his opinions and feelings on the matter are quite relevant. More relevant than your opinion or my opinion anyway.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re:

Where in the article does it say “this is an indisputable fact”? This is written on a blog–an opinion blog, no less. Pointing out that what is posted as opinion is an opinion does not make you look intelligent or thoughtful. It makes you look redundant and pedantic, or like a third-grader playing the “fact or opinion” game in the classroom. Give it up already. We all know that this is Mike’s (or Yorke’s) opinion. Some of us happen to share similar opinions. And, frankly, Thom Yorke has a lot more exposure to and experience with the recording industry than you do, so while I won’t say his opinion is more valuable, it is certainly more informed.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

It was more than merely the release of the CD format that saved the music industry back in the 80s. It was also MTV playing new and different music that got people excited about music again.

As I’ve written about before, the music industry was practically dead in the early 80s. The blame was on video games and piracy via cassette tapes. (Sound familiar?)

The industry rebounded when MTV got into sufficient homes and the rebound lasted until MTV stopped playing videos in the early 90s. That’s really when the music industry started tanking. Several years before P2P caught on.

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I would say that MTV dropped the music to start a more profitable reality tv lineup. They started MTV2 which played music…until they started showing the reruns of the reality tv shows on that. MTV became more about the lifestyle of music and almost nothing about the music itself. To come full circle, I think music was on the decline and MTV jumped to a new model.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I have no doubt that MTV’s decision was profitable. But on the other side of the coin, does anyone think Boy George could have had any success in the US without MTV? Or all of those awful hair bands? And let’s not forget that MTV helped expose rap music, even though it got into the genre late.

While radio was stagnate and sticks to narrow playlists, MTV was constantly looking for the next big thing. It was free to jump from genre to genre helping to expose music and sell music in the process.

As I wrote, once that stopped, the music industry started to decline.

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the music industry was practically dead in the early 80s
You must have been asleep during this time, because music was anything from dead.
In the early 80s, two things were spawned which “changed” music: 1) MTV, revitalizing music through a visual medium pushed sales of albums through the roof based on what video was the sexiest. 2) CDs, which by 1987, were finally accepted as the “new” media and put a death to cassette tapes.

In 1985 (IIRC), this is where music began to go from a “Yo, check me out” idea of sharing to “Yo, fucking pay me, louse, before you can hear my music!” MTV went to a commercial format, ruining the station forever. CD prices were heavily gouged despite being extremely cheaper to produce than cassettes. Artists went from singing to garbage behavior news targets.

Yes, one can easily argue how the 80s ruined music forever, and it’s a statement I’ll agree to until the day I die. The 80s were the “Me! Me! Me!” generation and we’re still paying for it to this day.

The internet is bringing forth talent no label will ever touch, and this is why I agree with Thom (to a point, anyway), that the CD is dead and choices are now infinite.

Unless, that is, the recording industry shuts down those paths in order to force people to buy plastic disks they no longer want.

It’s one last chance to restore music back to the art form it was long before it turned into a commercial shit pile of teen-aged sex objects used to sell music.

Ben Zayb says:

Re: Re: Re:

“You must have been asleep during this time, because music was anything from dead. In the early 80s, two things were spawned which “changed” music: 1) MTV, revitalizing music through a visual medium pushed sales of albums through the roof based on what video was the sexiest.”

From, “revitalize”: verb 1) restore strength; 2) give new life or vigor to

No. The music industry wasn’t dead in the early 80’s. But it was week, dying, in a downward spiral, or whatever, and it was revitalized by MTV. If it wasn’t down, there’s not need to revitalize it, right?

But I agree with everything you said after.

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If it wasn’t down, there’s not need to revitalize it, right?
Sales were down, not music. If I’m harping on semantics from Ima’s post, then I’ll apologize now.
Concerts and radio airplay were the big thing in the early 80s, not vinyl records, cassettes, or 8 track tapes. Damn, I’m aging as I write this.

MTV did revitalize music because it put more bands in front of viewers than most radio stations would carry. Back then, I was into AC/DC and it was YEARS before I heard a song of theirs on the radio. The first time I was introduced to them was via a concert a friend took me to. Fan ever since.

Radio, back then, wasn’t used as a commercial driving force to push album sales. Yes, it helped, but rarely did we hear a song played 10,000x in one day to push the latest teen sex idol’s album. We’d actually could get through an entire day without hearing the same song played twice throughout!

Now look where it’s at. Pathetic.

Revitalized music is accurate. Bands most people would have never heard before were now screaming on TV through an obscure cable channel.

Much like the internet is introducing bands that can’t even get that far due to the labels’ “You got to be sexy to get signed!” idiotic mentality.

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Dang it! Submit before preview.

I forgot to mention that AC/DC was my “limited” choice via concert where MTV opened the door to a new band called “Motley Crue”. Love them as well.

There’s no way, without MTV, I would have ever heard of Motley Crew.

If that’s not revitalizing, then I’m at a loss for words.

Right, Tommy? Show me that smackdown on those drums! Hell, ya!

Copycense (profile) says:

We generally agree with the concept, but we’d adjust it a bit: historically, the music business has been about reformatting, or selling the same content in a different format. The chain generally has been 45s, LPs, eight-track tape, cassette tape, LaserDisc, compact disc.

As longtime and avid music collectors, we cannot tell you how many items we have in different formats. Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”: album, and two different compact discs (since the original “remaster” wasn’t worth a damn, and we felt compelled to by the 2003 re-remaster). Some Jackson 5 albums: at least three formats.

And if the SACD format ever had taken root, we would have purchased at least a third of our collection yet again.

That model made money for the music business for a very long time. Then the industry pushed into digital with the compact disc, but failed to realize that the digital transformation relinquished control over a physical asset (and caused accounting nightmares for corporations whose business model requires a 1:1 nexus between production of goods and sale of goods).

MusicLove says:

Re: Re:

You forgot to start with the 78, oh and before that there were wax cylinders. The music business was around long before the recording industry. The music business is about music, writing, performing, marketing, propogating. The recording industry is about making that music (or any recorded audio, really) accessible in the listener’s home. An industry based on making recorded audio available for listening in the home must have a marketable and profitable distribution format to survive. When the distribution format was converted to bits (the CD) it was only a matter of time (thank you Moore’s law) until physical media was no longer a requirement for distribution (although it remains a requirement for storage). If the labels accept the fact that the recording industry is not inseparable from the music industry (which by this point in time is fairly obvious) and if the labels assert themselves as a functional part of the music industry (high quality recording, marketing, distribution) they will survive. If they can’t, well I’m just as happy seeing my favorite artists live and buying their music directly from their websites (far preferred over buying digital files off of iTunes or Amazon).

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Hmmm .... just a thought....

Why dont the record labels start a Music Video Channel(s) and give it away free to cable and satellite TV providers. Every song is followed by a notice stating this song is available for download from iTunes, e-music, etc. Or a scrolling News channel type bar along the bottom during the video.

Also distrubute the songs online for free with a click to purchase on the video.

247 note/entry) Site Embedable Video’s with click to buy capabilities. Auto create the code for the video and the click to buy so anyone can copy and paste it into their web site, blog, etc.

248) A set of e-fraking-Music standards for Video and Music that anyone can use on any site.

249) Creative Commons type Lisc for online videos, link this to a searchable database to prevent false DMCA takedowns.

250) e-fraking-Music standards for certification of mp3’s, videos, and other file types.

251) Open source easy to use plug in for Web servers To check for certified videos, mp3’s and other file types.

neat … I think one or two of those are repeats …. but got a couple gems out of this article ….

Big Ole Grin

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Hmmm .... just a thought....

“Why dont the record labels start a Music Video Channel(s) and give it away …..”

Ima Fish Nailed it … “Marketing music is odd because you basically cannot sell it until after the person has already “used” the product. Nowadays the music industry is holding its assets so tightly that they’re killing themselves off.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hmmm .... just a thought....

I would disagree. A small but active segment of the market has shown they will use the product before buying, make a copy, and then not buy. Worse, they will gave that copy to all of their friends and an unlimited numbers of strangers online.

If your store gets robbed every night, you would be pretty wise to either close early or arm yourself. You are looking at an effect (record companies liking digital less) and attempting to make it into a cause.

seamonkey420 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hmmm .... just a thought....

funny how you posted this as an AC.

piracy is always out there. that is the digital world and life we are in. if i get a song from a pal that i like, you know what i do? i go to the bands site and buy a tshirt or a poster. i prefer to support the artist directly rather than pay the ‘man’.

remember that the industry wouldn’t be an industry w/o us. your reasoning sounds like that of the News Corp and how to handle news online.

just my .02

kirillian (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hmmm .... just a thought....

Ya…but trying to lay the costs of that small segment at the feet of everyone else as a “punishment” is what causes the anger and rage at the music industry for its stupidity. More importantly, some of yall need to come to understand that the “piracy” of digital bytes is NOT the same thing as stealing. Theft IS occurring, but the theft is being carried out by the industry when the rights of citizens are being taken by trumping with the industry’s demands.

dem0n1 (profile) says:

When CDs showed up

I was working in a record & tape store when the CD the next big thing on the music scene. The record companies reps said that “Yes, the CD currently is more expensive than the record, but that’s just because the economies of scale in production haven’t kicked in. In a couple of years CDs will be be much cheaper for you to buy than records are today.” That never happened. The economies of scale went into the record companies pockets and they constantly pushed for higher list prices and wholesale prices. At the time we were selling $8.98 list LPs for $5.95.

Jrosen (profile) says:

Dying and/or Dead

Yes, back in the 80’s the music industry was dying, and YES it’s there again, or close.

Note I say the INDUSTRY, not music itself in any way. I purchase perhaps one cd a year, if that. At least from AMERICAN music companies. There’s very little I want to hear from what they produce. Too much ‘mainstream’ music has gone from full songs to 2-minute soundbites with one verse (two if we’re lucky) and endless inane choruses. Kudos to the rare few that are continually innovative.

MTV DID help back in the 80’s, but they’re a bad excuse for a poor joke these days. I’ve been fortunate to find a lot of stuff I enjoy through file-sharing sites in the past, and youtube, dailymotion, imeem, and the like nowadays. These days I listen to FAR more foreign-made than American-made music. Suddenly I’m back to 4-7 minute songs with multiple verses. Enjoyable collaborations between artists/singers. Hell, even if I don’t understand the lyrics, the music is fun to listen to. It’s pitiful also how the large corporations (SONY) who have such global coverage, still entrap good->amazing artists into shitty regional limitations. (I find it hard-enough to pay $20 for 2 songs off a cd to begin with. But when I find a group I like overseas, it’s a freaking $60 for import.)

The internet has opened up things all over the world. Get out there and explore, and help put the nails in the coffin of the music INDUSTRY, so it can be dead and buried where it belongs!

Anonymous Coward says:

RIAA Hard drives

The RIAA should just go into the external hard drive business and sell hard drives preloaded with songs/albums. Giving away the music (free) and cashing in on the physical hardware. Or better yet allow the consumer to choose what individual songs to load on the hard drive for a minimal cost. Imagine limited edition hard drives loaded with rare, “golden ticket” type content such as demos, videos etc. Imagine a hard drive having everything your favorite band has ever recorded in one location with room to spare on the hard drive. Imagine fans taking their external hard drives to be autographed rather than CD cases. However, one problem though would be whether the songs would have DRM and how you could copy songs off the hard drive to other devices.

dpolwarth says:

I've found loads of good music as downloads and gone on to buy the album

I’m a musician myself (not a commercial one, just for my own enjoyment.) I learned on synths, but can also play rhythm and bass guitar. I like to listen to different types of music, particularly funk and New Age. I’ve been introduced to great bands like Weather Report and the New Age maestro Rudy Adrian through downloads, and then gone on to buy their music. Good Jazz is also fantastic stuff if you know how to listen to it. You need ‘good ears.’

Where would I have heard this kind of stuff without downloads? Record companies don’t promote their old back catalogues, don’t give us a chance to listen to them, and unusual stuff like New Age just doesn’t get any airplay at all. The purchases I’ve made of Weather Report and other stuff was purely down to piracy.

Music is getting easier and cheaper to record all the time, and unfortunately that means a lot of bad stuff is getting out there. Gone are the days when you had to hire out an expensive recording studio to record an album – Elbow knocked their’s up on their home PC. Its easy. Its great for talented musicians, but its a nightmare when attractive but untalented people can use Melodyne to give them a perfect vocal. No talent and no commitment required. Next stage is an acting career.

In the UK the decline in chart music has largely been down to one man – Simon Cowell. He turned cheap, nasty pop into an art form. But he turned out to be the parasite that killed the host.

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