Man, this guy again. In an interview for, of all things, a new school textbook to be used in the U.K., Thom Yorke issued a warning to aspiring young musicians, suggesting that they self-release their music rather than seeking out a major label recording contract. Why? Oh, because—get ready—it’s “only a matter of time — months rather than years — before the music business establishment completely folds.” You got that everyone? In no more than eleven months from now, the music business will simply cease to exist.
Now, real talk: Tough times are upon us, for sure. The major labels have been fucked for years, and they’re not showing any obvious signs that they have any real idea how to become any less fucked any time soon. It is conceivable, likely even, that things will continue to get worse before they get better, and it’s undeniable that a major label recording contract means less today than it ever has before.
The frustrating thing about Mr. Yorke’s comments, though, aside from their hyperbolic, alarmist nature, is that he fails yet again to acknowledge that there is an option that falls between signing a contract with a fucked-beyond-belief major label and simply releasing your own music on your own dime: independent labels. You know, the ones that let their artists do what they want to do, don’t exploit them, work out fair financial deals with them, genuinely care about their well-being as musicians and as people, and increasingly, now more than ever, have the potential to launch extremely successful careers. Ask Vampire Weekend, The National, Broken Social Scene, Joanna Newsom etc.
We can split hairs about whether those artists’ labels are truly independent, of course, so fine, let’s say those examples don’t count, because each of the labels that released them are distributed by companies owned by the majors that are all going to fold in the next few months. There are still hundreds, maybe thousands of smaller labels that are truly, 100% independent—labels that, even if they can’t make their artists rich, can at least help them defray some of the many, many costs that come along with being in a band and making art.
This is not an issue for Yorke, of course: Even if he hadn’t become the Most Important Artist in the History of Recorded Music, he’d probably still have some “Creep” money left over, from back before even he knew the entire music business was going to cease to exist, and he’d still have at least some of those fans left over as well. We can’t begrudge him any of that, but we can certainly acknowledge that it renders everything he has to say about the subject almost entirely meaningless.