The Price Of Music: David Byrne Interviews Thom Yorke

David Byrne’s everywhere — shows, art openings, top ten lists, parties, the grocery store, etc. Adding to his already impressive resume, the Talking Head recently sat down on Wired’s dime and conversed with Thom Yorke, someone who also seems pretty damn ubiquitous, to discuss In Rainbows (ditto). How much is left to be said at this point? While you ponder that, note how Byrne does manage to extract some new info. Want a blogging job, David? We could use someone with your stamina. On “No Really, It’s Up To You”:

BYRNE: And letting people choose their own price?

YORKE: That was [manager Chris Hufford’s] idea. We all thought he was barmy. As we were putting up the site, we were still saying, “Are you sure about this?” But it was really good. It released us from something. It wasn’t nihilistic, implying that the music’s not worth anything at all. It was the total opposite. And people took it as it was meant. Maybe that’s just people having a little faith in what we’re doing.

BYRNE: And that works for you guys. You have an audience ready. Like me ? if I hear there’s something new of yours out there, I’ll just go and buy it without poking around about what the reviews say.

YORKE: Well, yeah. The only reason we could even get away with this, the only reason anyone even gives a shit, is the fact that we’ve gone through the whole mill of the business in the first place. It’s not supposed to be a model for anything else. It was simply a response to a situation. We’re out of contract. We have our own studio. We have this new server. What the hell else would we do? This was the obvious thing. But it only works for us because of where we are.

BYRNE:What about bands that are just getting started?

YORKE:Well, first and foremost, you don’t sign a huge record contract that strips you of all your digital rights, so that when you do sell something on iTunes you get absolutely zero. That would be the first priority. If you’re an emerging artist, it must be frightening at the moment. Then again, I don’t see a downside at all to big record companies not having access to new artists, because they have no idea what to do with them now anyway.

Wait, did Trent Reznor just walk in the room? D and T look at the point of albums in 2007 and how ‘Head’s making money, after the jump.

[Photo by of Byrne and Yorke in Radiohead’s Oxford offices by James Day for Wired]

On the purpose of albums in this day and age:

BYRNE: I’ve been asking myself: Why put together these things ? CDs, albums? The answer I came up with is, well, sometimes it’s artistically viable. It’s not just a random collection of songs. Sometimes the songs have a common thread, even if it’s not obvious or even conscious on the artists’ part. Maybe it’s just because everybody’s thinking musically in the same way for those couple of months.

YORKE: Or years.

BYRNE: However long it takes. And other times, there’s an obvious…

YORKE: … Purpose.

BYRNE: Right. Probably the reason it’s a little hard to break away from the album format completely is, if you’re getting a band together in the studio, it makes financial sense to do more than one song at a time. And it makes more sense, if you’re going to all the effort of performing and doing whatever else, if there’s a kind of bundle.

YORKE: Yeah, but the other thing is what that bundle can make. The songs can amplify each other if you put them in the right order.

On where they make their money:

BYRNE: Do you know, more or less, where your income comes from? For me, it’s probably very little from actual music or record sales. I make a little bit on touring and probably the most from licensing stuff. Not for commercials ? I license to films and television shows and that sort of thing.

YORKE: Right. We make some doing that.

BYRNE: And for some people, the overhead for touring is really low, so they make a lot on that and don’t worry about anything else.

YORKE: We always go into a tour saying, “This time, we’re not going to spend the money. This time we’re going to do it stripped down.” And then it’s, “Oh, but we do need this keyboard. And these lights.” But at the moment we make money principally from touring. Which is hard for me to reconcile because I don’t like all the energy consumption, the travel. It’s an ecological disaster, traveling, touring.

Wonder if they’ll eventually go unplugged. Not excerpted, there’s a mention that In Rainbows tunes will be pushed to traditional outlets (“So now they’re talking about putting it on the radio and that sort of thing. I guess that’s normal.”) Is it, though? I wonder what the breakdown is between folks who learn about their music on the Internet and those who get it via radio. David, can you do the math for us?

Head over for the rest of the interview, a great big silvery headshot of the two together, and most awesomely, streaming audio of the masters in conversation. (Especially great is Thom’s school boy “Thank you! Wicked!” after David’s “Nice record, very nice record,” kick off. Awed by Byrne — see Thom’s just like us.)