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.

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

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Ccomp5950 (profile) says:

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: (statistics from 90’s to 2001) (Statistics for 97 to 2007) (2008-2009)

BBT says:

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?

bradmoreso (profile) says:

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.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: 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 ….

Deadlyassassin says:

Re: 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.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

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.


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.

PaulT (profile) says:

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).

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: 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”

Peter (profile) says:

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.

JennyM says:


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.

Paul S says:

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.

Rob Wallace (user link) says:


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.

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