Thoughts about music inspired by David Byrne’s thoughts about music.


I’m a big fan of The Lefsetz letter and I typically read just about every post all the way to the bitter end, and the and is almost always bitter with Bob Lefsetz. I’m also a big fan of the Talking Heads. So when Lefsetz titled a recent post “David Byrne” you know I inhaled it.

Lefsetz’s rant was his response to David Byrne’s rant against the Internet and especially Spotify. Lefsetz opened with this salvo:

“Old fart hates change, what else is new?”

What inspired Lefsetz to be so blunt? To be fair, Byrne was blunt, too: he titled his piece 'The internet will suck all creative content out of the world'.

But enough about Lefsetz (if you want to read his post, it’s right here). Does Byrne have a point?

This is when I really miss the German word jein, a combination of ja and nein, or yes and no.

I agree with Byrne that the fees for streamed music are absurdly low but I do not agree with him, at all, that the Internet alone is to blame. Or Spotify. If you want to blame someone or something, you’ve got to include record labels and law makers. Here’s why:

Record labels own vast catalogs of music so they look at streaming rates against their entire catalog and are happy with accepting less for each stream if it means the overall revenue generated by the catalog still amounts to something significant, which it would not in a world without legal streaming. In other words, the record companies are content with a lot less of something than nothing at all. Artists aren’t so lucky. For them, the revenue from album sales and radio plays could once amount to a decent living, even if you weren’t top tier. No more. No only the very biggest artists generate much revenue from music (read this, it will blow your mind). Bottom line is that Spotify, YouTube, etc., have worked with labels to determine streaming rates, not artists, so artists are paying a much bigger price.

Lawmakers are generally whores whose actions are determined by who’s paying them the most. And compared to whatever record labels and artists can cough up the GOBS of cash coming from lobbyists for Apple, Google, Verizon, Facebook — basically every company that benefits from rising Internet traffic — is a shitload more. So copyright law is not enforced because to do so would create too much friction in the ‘net. What’s more, the biggest copyright owners, companies such as Disney, have bribed Congress to extend copyright law to absurd lengths. way beyond the average lifespan or even life expectancy of a human being (it’s complex, naturally, but it’s well over 100 years) so copyright owners don’t get much sympathy.

But what of the core premise of Byrne’s article, that 'The internet will suck all creative content out of the world'? Not even close to true. There’s more creativity going on than ever before and it will continue to grow because that’s what humans do, we create. And even if we’re being screwed over by corporations who want to be the sole beneficiaries of profits from creative endeavors and by the lawmakers who work on behalf of said corporations, we will still create.