Radiohead released their brand-spanking-new single “Burn the Witch” to much fanfare this morning. The highly anticipated track is available on YouTube and Spotify, which, as Pitchfork points out, is a curious move considering the UK rockers have repeatedly slammed such music sharing platforms.
Since self-releasing their last full-length, 2011’s The King of Limbs, frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich have been very vocal about their dislike for streaming services, even going so far as to pull their respective catalogs from Spotify.
If you’ll recall, in 2013, Yorke famously compared Spotify to “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse” and called them “gatekeepers to the whole process”:
“I feel like the way people are listening to music is going through this big transition. I feel like as musicians we need to fight the Spotify thing. I feel that in some ways what’s happening in the mainstream is the last gasp of the old industry. Once that does finally die, which it will, something else will happen. But it’s all about how we change the way we listen to music, it’s all about what happens next in terms of technology, in terms of how people talk to each other about music, and a lot of it could be really fucking bad. I don’t subscribe to the whole thing that a lot of people do within the music industry that’s ‘well this is all we’ve got left. we’ll just have to do this.’ I just don’t agree.
When we did the In Rainbows thing what was most exciting was the idea you could have a direct connection between you as a musician and your audience. You cut all of it out, it’s just that and that. And then all these fuckers get in a way, like Spotify suddenly trying to become the gatekeepers to the whole process. We don’t need you to do it. No artists needs you to do it. We can build the shit ourselves, so fuck off. But because they’re using old music, because they’re using the majors… the majors are all over it because they see a way of re-selling all their old stuff for free, make a fortune, and not die. That’s why to me, Spotify the whole thing, is such a massive battle, because it’s about the future of all music. It’s about whether we believe there’s a future in music, same with the film industry, same with books.
To me this isn’t the mainstream, this is is like the last fart, the last desperate fart of a dying corpse. What happens next is the important part.”
Godrich slammed the streaming service the same year, noting how “new artists get paid fuck all with this model…” and that “it’s an equation that just doesn’t work”:
“The reason is that new artists get paid fuck all with this model.. It’s an equation that just doesn’t work. The music industry is being taken over by the back door and if we don’t try and make it fair for new music producers and artists then the art will suffer. Make no mistake. These are all the same old industry bods trying to get a stranglehold on the delivery system. The numbers don’t even add up for spotify yet.. But it’s not about that.. It’s about establishing the model which will be extremely valuable. Meanwhile small labels and new artists can’t even keep their lights on. It’s just not right. Plus people are scared to speak up or not take part as they are told they will lose invaluable exposure if they don’t play ball. Meanwhile Millions of streams gets them a few thousand dollars.. Not like radio at all.. Anyway. Thems the breaks. Opinions welcome.. but discussion and new thinking necessary.. If you have a massive catalogue – a major label… for example.. then you’re quids in. It’s money for old rope.. But making new recorded music needs funding.. Some records can be made in a laptop, but some need musician and skilled technicians.. These things cost money.. Pink floyds catalogue has already generated billions of dollars for someone(not necessarily the band) so now putting it on a streaming site makes total sense.. But if people had been listening to spotify instead of buying records in 1973… I doubt very much if dark side would have been made.. It would just be too expensive… I think the point is – that streaming suits catalogue.. But cannot work as a way of supporting new artists work.. Spotify and the like either have to address that fact and change the model for new releases or else all new music producers should be bold and vote with their feet. They have no power without new music..”
As for YouTube, just this past November Yorke had some scathing words for the website — which remains to be the only one hosting the video for “Burn the Witch” — and its parent company Google, likening its practices to those of Nazi Germany:
“All I know is that they make money from the work of many artists who do not derive any benefit. Service providers make money: Google, YouTube. A lot of money. ‘Oh, sorry, it was yours? Now it is ours. No, no, we are joking, it is always yours,’ They seize it. It’s like what the Nazis did during the Second World War. In fact they all did that during the war, the British too: steal the art from other countries. What’s the difference?”
So, why the sudden change of heart for Yorke and Godrich? Could it have been a non-negotiable decision by their label XL Recordings, which recently purchased the band’s entire back catalog? Or, perhaps, a warming up to the streaming services industry, no doubt nudged by recent (and massively profitable) exclusive album streaming deals by Drake and Beyoncé?
We’ve reached out to the band for comment and will update when/if we hear back.
Below, revisit “Burn the Witch” courtesy of “Nazi Germany”-esque YouTube: