Early next year, Beck will release the much-awaited Morning Phase, his first proper new album since 2008’s Modern Guilt. He’s stayed busy in that time, certainly, producing albums for people like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks and releasing his all-sheet-music Song Reader project and working on a bunch of still-unreleased projects, but six years is still a long time to be away. And from what Beck’s been saying lately, that absence might have something to do with his very understandable feelings of alienation about the music business. And like so many other musicians lately, Beck has one problem in particular: Spotify.
As Future Heart points out, Beck recently played a few shows in South America, and he did an interview with the Argentine site Pagina12. (Beck did the interview in English, which Pagina12 translated into Spanish and then Future Heart translated back into English, so grain of salt on this stuff.) In the interview, Beck says there’s nothing musicians can do to stop sites like Spotify: “It’s something that is coming like it or not. But I pose the question of how I can hold on, because what Spotify pays me is not even enough to pay the musicians playing with me or the people working on the disks. The model does not work.”
He’s also not particularly satisfied with the way the music actually comes through speakers on Spotify: “I think the saddest thing about streaming is the issue of sound quality… it’s like watching The Citizen on your phone. That’s what people are listening to!… There are many opportunities to improve the digital files and I know that Neil Young is working on a system for that. Eventually, it will happen and people will fall in love with the music.” I’m assuming here that Beck was talking about Citizen Kane (UPDATE: he was), not the 2012 Arab-immigrant drama The Citizen, and something just got lost in translation. But maybe he just loves that movie.
The Neil Young mention leads the Future Heart to speculate that Morning Phase could be one of the first albums available from Pono, the streaming audio service that Young is building, which could be very cool. The site also points out that Beck’s Spotify antipathy only stretches so far; he recently posted a playlist on his own official Spotify account.
But in that Argentine interview, Beck also mentions another mysterious reason for his absence: An apparently serious spinal injury that wasn’t public until now: “I had some injuries. I had severe damage to my spine, but now it’s improving, so I’m back in the music. It was a long, long recovery. Lately, I concentrated on playing guitar. Do not think I can move again as before, although I can give a lot onstage.”
UPDATE: The Future Heart has transcribed Beck’s interview from the original tapes. Here’s his comments on Spotify:
It’s inevitable because it’s coming whether you like it or not. But it does beg the question of how it can sustain because the amount of money that you get from Spotify doesn’t allow you to actually pay the musicians or the people who work on the record. The model doesn’t work yet. So either we have to figure out ways to get people to help us make records for free or take a lot less money, but the way that it is now it doesn’t work. So I’m not sure, something’s going to have to give. But if I were to have to try to make my records and make them from the money that you get from Spotify I wouldn’t actually be able to make the records I’m making. I would not be able to hire other musicians and I wouldn’t be able to get someone to master my record. I’d have to do it all myself on a laptop which a lot of people are doing, which is fine, but it would just make a different kind of music.