Thom Yorke: Don’t Sign With the Industry / Corporate Culture

A recent blog post at the UK Guardian site talks about Thom Yorke, the lead singer for the popular UK band Radiohead, and his statements encouraging new bands not to sign with major record labels.

To be fair to Yorke the quote in question (posted by a commentor on this blog) ought to be posted. The quote and the blog itself raise all sorts of important questions for me, and I’ll outline why in a sec:

What tips can you give young people who want to write lyrics that will make a difference to their world?

That there is nothing more dry and boring in art than politics. It has to be fermented and distilled. It has to be personal. It has to be light of touch. It is much more about how you do stuff, your state of mind and less about the words on the page.

What advice would you give young music makers who want to make a difference with their talent?

This is one for Ed in Radiohead… it is his obsession. When we discuss it he says it’s simply a matter of time – months rather than years – before the music business establishment completely folds. He is involved in trying to build a world where artists would finally get paid. But we are up against the self-protecting interests of that industry. They are currently trying to lobby to take all the cash themselves whilst claiming to protect the interests of its artists. Oh yeah? When the corporate industry dies it will be no great loss to the world. So, I guess I would say don’t tie yourself to the sinking ship because believe me it’s sinking.

So here is why this quote raises all sorts of questions with me.

Firstly, I’ve been in the music industry, an industry that is not too different from the writing industry, in the sense that an artist creates something and a company publishes it, and the artist gets paid certain royalties (usually eight percent to start off with, up to a maximum of 15 percent if you’ve been around and can push for it).

Secondly, Yorke’s statement that “When the corporate industry dies it will be no great loss to the world,” is an interesting one that may have something to add to a recent discussion at my blog around Discovery Health.

I personally have a distaste for corporate in that I feel it more often than not stifles creativity and usually only has one target in mind: profit. There’s nothing wrong with profit but it cannot be the only goal a business sets itself, but most businesses do only have that as the goal. Things such as values come secondary to the Greatest Value of All: Profit.

The music industry has been tainted by this monster for decades now. However, the plus side to corporate is that it can be sustainable. This is something Alan Jones may be hi-lighting in the Discovery conversation at my blog.

But what the heck do struggling artists such as myself do? Contrary to all the hoo-ha, the Internet doesn’t provide a platform for artists who want to also have an income.

The Internet culture is used to having everything for free, something that the news media doesn’t know what to do about at the moment. Newsweek is up for sale as it seems it cannot compete against the Internet, and there’s talk that the New York Times is thinking of a subscription model for its website because, after all, how the heck else can it make money? Advertising doesn’t provide enough income to pay proper journalists to do proper work, and the more visitors to your site the more bandwidth you pay.

I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is that corporates stifle creativity and cannot let go of the old, and the new actually looks a lot less promising than it did five years ago. Where do book writers and musicians like me, who are cautious of signing with labels because eight percent royalty is ridiculous, and find the Internet means everything must be free, go?

I’m also a journalist, and increasingly journalists have to produce more content to line up with the growing needs of the Internet, while being paid less to line up with the income news agencies can actually produce.

To market, even with the Internet, costs bucks and most of all it costs time, something an artist like me finds less of as his time is spent making money out of a ‘normal’ job so that he can somehow, at some time, plow some of this money into his creative arts.

And is Yorke right? Will the loss of corporates be no loss to our world?

And who is to blame? It seems corporates don’t care and neither does the public. Once in a conversation with a gamer I asked that if he had the choice of downloading music for free (ilegally) or pay just R1 a song, which would he choose? He chose the former. The mass public seems to want the very best of everything but pay nothing for it. And who can blame them? Corporates, the people who they work for, might have taught them that that’s the way it should be. Because, after all, that could be how the corporate is treating them.

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