Even during the height of the first punk wave, David Byrne did not strike anyone as a particularly angry person. But Byrne is also someone with a certain level of influence who, if he wants one, can claim a large platform. And now he’s done just that. In the past week, Byrne has written two editorials for the British newspaper The Guardian, and they’re both about things that piss him off (or, more accurately, raise his concerns).
The first of those editorials, which originally ran in Creative Time Reports, concerns the escalating costs of living in New York City and the way those costs are pushing out creative people, draining the city of much of its vitality. Here’s Byrne:
Most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.
Byrne puts much of the blame on the financial sector, and on the ways in which the city’s culture have validated that whole money-grubbing mentality. But he does end on a hopeful note:
Can New York change its trajectory a little bit, become more inclusive and financially egalitarian? Is that possible? I think it is… It really could be a model of how to make a large, economically sustainable and creatively energetic city. I want to live in that city.
The second editorial concerns Spotify and other streaming services, and those companies’ well-documented practice of paying artists very, very little for having their music streamed. Byrne writes that he’s tried to have as much of his music pulled from Spotify as possible, reasoning that a few companies are being paid vast sums of money but that the money isn’t bein equitably distributed: “It seems obvious that some people are making a lot of money on this deal, while the artists have been left with meagre scraps.”
But Byrne isn’t too concerned about his own money; he allows, as he does in the first editorial, that he’s already rich. He is, however, concerned that younger artists are going to find that they can’t make a living doing this anymore:
What’s at stake is not so much the survival of artists like me, but that of emerging artists and those who have only a few records under their belts (such as St Vincent, my current touring partner, who is not exactly an unknown). Many musicians like her, who seem to be well established, well known and very talented, will eventually have to find employment elsewhere or change what they do to make more money. Without new artists coming up, our future as a musical culture looks grim. A culture of blockbusters is sad, and ultimately it’s bad for business. That’s not the world that inspired me when I was younger. Many a fan (myself included) has said that “music saved my life”, so there must be some incentive to keep that lifesaver available for future generations.
Neither of the arguments that Byrne makes in these two editorials is particularly new. But both pieces are well-researched and incisively written, and it’s fun to imagine Byrne hunched over a laptop somewhere and bashing all this out.