The debate over streaming music has been harsh and polarizing, so who better to weigh in than Steve Albini, one of the harshest, most polarizing voices in music? He doesn’t think what you might think he thinks, though. Albini, the stalwartly independent musician and producer whose famous The Baffler essay “The Problem With Music” became a sacred text on the subject of music industry corruption, apparently thinks streaming music is great. In fact, in a new interview with Quartz, Albini goes so far as to say the likes of Spotify, and Beats Music, and Bandcamp have essentially solved “The Problem With Music.” Here are some choice excerpts:

  • On free global music sharing: “The single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock, is being able to share music, globally for free. That’s such an incredible development.”
  • On consumer choice: “Record labels, which used to have complete control, are essentially irrelevant. The process of a band exposing itself to the world is extremely democratic and there are no barriers. Music is no longer a commodity, it’s an environment, or atmospheric element. Consumers have much more choice and you see people indulging in the specificity of their tastes dramatically more. They only bother with music they like.”
  • “You can literally have a worldwide audience for your music… with no corporate participation, which is tremendous.”
  • On the economics of streaming services: “I think they are extremely convenient for people who aren’t genuine music fans, who don’t want to do any legwork in finding bands, [but] I think there is incorrect calculus being done by the people who are upset about them. I actually think the compensation is not as preposterous as anyone else. It’s like complaining that cars are going faster than horses.”
  • On the publishing industry: “Publishing was a racket. It was not a legitimate part of the music business. It never operated for the benefit of songwriters. Of all of the things that have collapsed in the music paradigm, the one I am most pleased to see collapse is the publishing racket.”
  • On the primacy of live music: “I think that’s a totally much more direct and genuine way for an audience to pay for a band, and a much more efficient means of compensation.”
  • On cutting out the middleman: “On balance, the things that have happened because of the internet have been tremendously good for bands and audiences, but really bad for businesses that are not part of that network, the people who are siphoning money out. I don’t give a fuck about those people.”

Read the full story with lots of additional stats at Quartz. (via Spin)

Comments (29)
  1. The best part about this post is that I just realized that the giant Big Mac ad has been replaced by a giant Spotify one.

  2. damn Steve is seriously my hero. You’d honestly think the punk in him would dismiss streaming as hollow and corrupt or something along those lines but he’s actually stoked on it. There are obviously benefits and damages with putting music out there for free listening but I like the way Albini views as just a more independent way for musicians to pursue their careers. Yay for the 21st century

    • Have you read The Problem With Music? If you have, then you’ll understand his point of view here, since the points he makes really do “solve” the problems he asserted in the essay.

  3. True that.

  4. Where I think Albini is wrong is on the demise of the publishing industry. My feeling is that with streaming, the publishers are now more powerful than ever. Because the artists are not going to make a lot of money with the music that is streamed, they will want to have more airplay and possibly some advertising contracts as a compensation. For this, they will want to have a publisher. I don’t know how that works in the US but in Europe publishers have become increasingly important in the music business. Quite often here, these are the publishers, not the labels, who support promotion costs. Publishers will hire a PR and deal directly with platforms such as Deezer or Spotify to have their artists on the homepage of these websites. As a result, while an artist can definitely thrive without a record company, they still have to rely on the publisher if they want to be heard. I am not saying it is a good or bad thing (generally publishers resort to quite constraining contracts that deprive artists from at least half of their royalties for years to come, but some people would argue that without airplay you do not earn any money at all) but that is the way it is. And increasingly so.

    • Albini would correctly consider any band that is interested in selling their music to an advertiser to be a clown band that’s not to be taken seriously.

      • Surely. But then you can also think that your music is going to be diffused to an audience solely by the sheer force of its own awesomeness. And there is no way it is going to happen. So what do you do to beat the odds? What I like about streaming is that because it makes your music widely available but ultimately prevents those who do not posses the promotional power of a Coldplay to make a living out of it, it will inspire bands/artists to act at a smaller scale: do your own packages, burn your CD-R or press a limited number of vinyls, sell your stuff on USB keys at small gigs, etc.

      • That’s a popular position – usually with people who have “sold out” but demand that their bands remain pure. Don’t take offense – my paycheck comes from ad sales. But I don’t demand that a band sleep 5 to a motel room while I stretch out on my king-sized bed stuffed with corporate $$.

        Just saying that bands, and a lot of damn good ones, will sell a song or two because it can mean the difference between starting a new record or going back to a crappy day job. I respect a lot of Albini’s opinions but in his glee to see the majors die (which I share) he kind of glosses over the fact that bands still aren’t getting paid.

  5. I have to agree with michael_ : this post would feel better if not for the really bizarre vertical integration thing happening with the Spotify logo occupying every single ad spot on the page. The story is literally framed by Spotify ads.

  6. Caleb / Michael, those are more likely ads powered by Google adwords with a little thing called “remarketing”. So, you are seeing Spotify ads because you visited spotify recently (and they planted cookies in your browser) or most likely because Spotify pays Google to put ads where they are mentioned in a “relevant” way… Funny thing I’m reading this article with Miniinthebox ads everywhere just because I was looking for a dog toy this morning…

    • It’s called a “skin” when one brand fills all ad space for a day. SPIN’s sales team sells it; this site’s editorial team has no control over them and rarely any knowledge about when they run.

      • FWIW, I don’t hold you accountable for it or any ad-based follies. You’ve made enough declarations on here about that side of the site being out of your hands.

        I might know a guy who knows a guy if you ever want to entertain the idea of, uh, “bankrupting” this “sales team” problem if you ever want to restore your sidebars to its past unblemished self when the most commercial it got was maybe a banner ad from Neighborhoodies up top….

  7. I agree with Albini that the barriers for a band to expose themselves to the world are much, much lower, and that’s amazing. But I wouldn’t count out record labels quite yet. They’re still shelling out the big money to make sure the Lorde/Coldplay/One Direction/etc. logo is the first thing you see when you log onto Spotify. How do smaller bands compete with that?

    • Record labels will never disappear completely and they’ll never stop making money. What has changes is their neck-wringing grasp on the music industry. Their power has decreased in ways that were unfathomable even twenty years ago. They’ve bought each other out, downsized and restructured to the point that they’re completely different businesses. They only thing that remains of the old system is the huge 360 deals that major, MAJOR artists still sign from time to time. Because in those deals, everyone is making such ridiculous sums of money that nobody is losing out on their profit margin.

  8. Totally agree… You get to really explore music from everywhere in the world for the first time.

  9. Albini – don’t agree with the publishing argument. The most a publisher can get is 50%. Publishers are actively placing songs and getting sync licences for this, These can be decent figures. A lot more decent than royalties from the likes of Spotify which are disgustingly small.
    “Spotify opened up its data from a 12-week period between June and August for analysis. Daft Punk’s Get Lucky was streamed 78.6 million times through its Play 50 chart, earning up to £660,000, which would be split between record label, publishers, collecting societies and the French duo.”

  10. Albini is a genius, but I still think he’s a dick. Fortunately I’m open minded enough to separate the two and not hold one aspect of his personality against the other. I mean, the world is filled with dicks who contribute nothing of value to our society. Albini is definitely not one of those.

  11. What gives you or anyone the right to decide what happens with someone else’s work?

  12. Put a sock in Steve. You’re doing fine in the Bizz, so this is an easy stance. It’s this sort of bullshit idealism that’s allowing songwriters to get ripped off, to get paid .007 cents a play, that’s bankrupted others and it cheapens the business. Artists are struggling because of this bullshite sense of self entitlement.

  13. Given the “opportunity to discover new bands” in a landscape of millions of options, the average consumer runs back to safe harbors. It has been proven, not just by music studies delving into the “myth of the Internet long tail” but by social science and psychologists. It is such a recognized thing now, it has even garnered its own name — the tyranny of choice. In a time where celebrities like Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry would have burned off and been marginalized by now, this exact paradigm explains why they hang on and seemingly become bigger.

    I respect Albini a lot, but for someone who has said for the better part of his career that everyone should stop drinking the Kool Aid, he has a deep purple mustache after this entry.

  14. Albini is almost there. The internet gave us crowdfunding, that’s the first step to bands making money for things they need and exchange that for goods the fans wants, it works. The second step will be equity crowdfunding when the common fan can give $25 to their favorite band, directly. That’s the day artists will truly be able to survive off their craft. Almost there: JOBS act has been passed, SEC just needs to finish laying out the rules, next year probably…

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