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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9 thoughts on “Thom Yorke: Don’t Sign With the Industry / Corporate Culture”

  1. All of these methods are good methods to make money online if you know what youre doing, if you have money to invest, if you have time to spare and to wait for income some time down the road, if you have a list.

  2. Hi Ryan

    Interesting stance, the problem with it is that without “The Corporation” we would have not read your opinion, you would not have even have read the Thom Yorke quote, and Tom York would not even be a public figure.

    I don’t think that The Corporation is an angelic institution, it has all kinds of evils, but it also does a not of really nice and helpful things as by products of it’s single goal, profit.
    I think that one of the travesties of Capitalism is that in a capitalistic society individuals have no value unassociated with their assets. That is just plain wrong… But I have to say that in a capitalistic society the individual has a lot more value than in any other form of government practiced today!

    So you say: “There’s nothing wrong with profit but it cannot be the only goal a business sets itself”
    I ask why not? What does the businessman owe everyone else?
    I have some answers, but I’m keen on the discussion. :^)

  3. Alo Alo

    Al you are fierce. In future I’ll try make sure you don’t get the sword, haha.
    Fear Not Ryan, where you add value, it will always be trade-able, you can’t keep a good horse down.

    Skype launched with the slogan: The whole world will talk for free.
    Linux Ubuntu posted me free a free CD with there OS.No catches
    Nokia cellphones now come with “free” music.

    Popular opinion counts, that’s mostly why Playstation owns the lions-share of the market and I think it was the “Dreamcatcher” that never got going even with a better spec product. WRT. Predicting the fall of Music Label corporates, I think popular opinion will decide. If they add value they will still continue maybe just reinvented and if they don’t add value they will fall.

    Profit, There’s nothing wrong with it, but the “Love of Profit” is mischief.
    The Capitalistic Construct is all I know and so I work with it, I am committed to reading “The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx” when time is my friend.


  4. Hey Al,

    This is part of my point about Yorke’s quote. Without EMI, Radiohead’s old music label, Radiohead would not be in the position it is now. Radiohead can sell their music on the Internet through a ‘pay-what-you-want’ model because they are so popular already. But they have a LOT to thank EMI for, for getting them so popular.

    So it’s easy for Yorke to say that we don’t need these corporate companies, but that’s because he isn’t an up and coming artist. For the rest of us, we need huge budget for marketing to compete. That’s the bottom line. And corporates have the budget.

    Besides, Radiohead even use corporates and music labels for distribution purposes.

    I think to ask what the businessman owes everyone else is the same as asking why the businessman should pay anyone for their services / work anyway. Does he owe anyone for their work done for him? Why? The answer is more or less the same as to why a corporate should have more than profit in mind. It’s grand goal should be to improve the life of all not just its shareholders. It has a moral obligation here.

    Besides, we are talking corporates here, a conglomerate of sorts of businessmen. We’re not looking at the businessman as an individual.

    I come from first-hand experience where a corporate pulled off a number of jookies to ensure that profits for the shareholders continued to rise while employees (stakeholders, surely) suffered. Some of these were to deliberately downplay ‘official’ positions so that employees were graded lower and therefore were paid lower. ACTUAL responsibilities didn’t match to the responsibilities on paper. It has been done many times.

    Having had contacts in the higher eschelons of the business, I knew for a fact that the shareholders’ pockets were getting fatter while the employees were constantly told sad stories about how low profits were, why increases couldn’t happen, and lay-offs would be common. In other words, rather than taking the knock along with everyone else, the shareholders insisted on seeing profit increase even if that meant the stakeholders (employees) should take a knock in salary or a knock in their own time with no overtime paid.

    That’s not a sustainable mindset at all.

    Now it would be unfair to translate my experience to ALL corporates, but the fact of the matter is that the prevailing undercurrent always feels as if profit is the grandest of all goals even at the expense of other values. Even at the expense of sustainability.

    For instance, the very values of the business I worked for, in all of its official paperwork, PR etc., included that the company would look to improve the life of its employees and for South Africans. Not only did it fail at doing this, it didn’t even try. Why did they feel a responsibility to put those kinds of values into their business plan when in fact they didn’t care about that? To save face, surely, but why would they feel they need to save face?

    I even asked a high positioned guy in the business to tell me the core five values of the business, and he couldn’t tell me. Yet he was part of the initial sessions when they put those values onto paper. To me, that says a lot about worldview.

  5. Hi
    I see you have picked up this story from the Guardian, but you also appear to have picked up the photo too. I just wanted to check that you have paid to use this image, because if you haven’t then that’s a very un-christian thing to do.
    Best regards

  6. Hi Jim

    Well it’s your photo and I would happily take it down if you wanted me to.

    Getty Images’ restrictions on the photo are as follows:

    “Contact your local office for all commercial or promotional uses.”

    As this blog is neither commercial or promotional it’s my understanding that the image can be used if the source of the image is referenced, which it is. Enlighten me if this is not so?

    The ‘un-christian’ statement is interesting. Is it really an un-christian thing to do, or do you just have issues with Christians? 😉

  7. Hi Jim,

    Given that the article is about how everyone on the Internet expects everything to be free, I’ve changed the image, after realising you probably have similar issues as a pro photographer as what I have.

    Please let me know if this is ok.

    Thanks, Ryan

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