Steve Albini: “The single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock, is being able to share music, globally for free.”

In a recent interview Steve Albini has added to his thoughts on music piracy from a few years ago by telling us what he thinks about music streaming. Not surprisingly it turns out he’s in favour of it. Full details, and quotes, below.

Steve Albini famously “came out” a couple of years ago as being pro-piracy in this “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit in which he was posed the question “What is your opinion about music Piracy? Does it hurt you economically?” His reply was quite long and the full draft of it can be found on the link above (and should be required reading for all fans of music) but essentially though, by way of a recap, what he said can be summed up with his three quotes:

“I reject the term “piracy.” It’s people listening to music and sharing it with other people, and it’s good for musicians because it widens the audience for music.”

“There won’t ever be a mass-market record industry again, and that’s fine with me because that industry didn’t operate for the benefit of the musicians or the audience, the only classes of people I care about.”

“Free distribution of music has created a huge growth in the audience for live music performance, where most bands spend most of their time and energy anyway.”

He concluded by saying “Thank you internets” which chimes with Dave Allen (Gang of Four) opinion on the subject: “Don’t blame the internet”.

But please read Albini’s full treatise if you haven’t already.

The reason this has become news again is that Albini recently, speaking with Quartz in an article which riffed on his 1995 article “The Problem With Music“, has added more thoughts to a parallel subject, that of streaming music, in which he described the ability to “share music, globally, for free” as “the single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock”.

This is obviously at huge odds to other well-known artists like David Byrne who wrote this much read piece in the Guardian titled “The internet will suck all creative content out of the world” and which purported to explain why he thought “The boom in digital streaming may generate profits for record labels and free content for consumers, but it spells disaster for today’s artists across the creative industries”, a post which garnered 1300 responses, and Thom Yorke, who famously slagged off Spotify on Twitter and pulled all his music from it saying “new artists get paid fuck all” before calling it “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.

Evening things up, meanwhile, and joining Blinky on #teamstream is Dave Allen from Gang of Four who directly replied to David Byrne’s article with a piece in The Guardian titled “Why David Byrne is wrong about Spotify” which went on to explain why he thinks “…musicians such as Byrne and Thom Yorke can’t blame the internet for their problems” and also explained why “We need to work with new markets, not reject them”. Similarly Henry Rollins has been a staunch advocate of not caring if he gets money at the end of the day for his recorded material, all he cares about is that his music gets heard by as many people as possible.

Getting back to Albini, it seems from the Quartz article that he thinks streaming services are being viewed the wrong way (“I actually think the compensation is not as preposterous as anyone else … it’s like complaining that cars are going faster than horses…”) and that artists have been empowered by streaming while record labels have become “essentially irrelevant.” He also returns to some of the issues he made in his Reddit piece, the fact that labels and fat cats are becoming redundant:

“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.”

He also saves some time to talk about publishers:

“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.”

Albini concluded that the internet has 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 article on Quartz here.

So what do you think? Are you on team #Albini or team #Byrne? Pro or anti streaming? Or do you feel that it’s ridiculous trying to separate things out, at the end of the day if you go up to 100 new bands and asked them “would you like to carry on making music in a world with the internet or without” do you think any of them would say their chances of achieving success and making money are less now we have the internet?

Your thoughts, as ever, are welcome.

All words Guy Manchester. More words by Guy can be read here. He tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.


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7 comments on “Steve Albini: “The single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock, is being able to share music, globally for free.””

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  1. this shows that Steve doesn’t know how the internet works… Pirate sites make millions of $ every year from advertizing, Google does profit on a large scale from that “new business model”. Even the legal streaming services like Spotify do everything not to pay musicians. “Free” means Pirate Bay uses music to make cash from a Pringles ad. Has Steve become a parrot of Silicon Valley? Yes. The future is about how creative people get paid for their work (micro payments etc.).

    It’s simple “You cannot obtain the products of a mind except on the owner’s terms, by trade and by volitional consent.”

  2. Steve is a wealthy and successful musician whose career was built up by record labels who could afford to spend money on Big Black going to studios and then spending money on PR to get the band known. No new young band, unless they have wealthy parents, can afford this now. music is now a hobby for the rich kids and the pirates make more money off the backs of musicians than the major labels ever did.

    • Uffizzi, excellent Irish wife

      And those really great mammoth record labels were which ones Carl? Your breath must smell like farts frankly because you’re talking out of your ass. The band and Steve did all of that THEMSELVES…you have a laptop, do your own recording. Target has cheap mics, get one. Sounds to me like the only people that CANT get their music recorded are lazy and/or dumb. I’mseriously tempted to have recording sessions with my child, publish it myself and load it up on Soundcloud to show whiney lazy babies how it’s done.

      • and then you have uploaded it..then what? silence as no-one listens to your dribbling genius- maybe you need to promote it, tell someone it exists- luckily for Steve Albini he was on Homestead Records and equivalent UK labels who paid for the promotion of his work and made sure we all got to hear it… Your naivity is laughable.

  3. Even the Pirate Pay dude has realized this amd set up flattr it’s at least the start in the right direction and ideas like that should be promoted by the music community. If Steve Albini would become more active he could reach a lot of people. Like Rollins they come from a generation where distribution was difficult. But that already changed in the 90ties for indie labels/ musicians.

    • Uffizzi, excellent Irish wife

      My apologies for posting in YOUR comments section Alec. It is your “Empire” afterall. ;) Things did not just change for the 90’s Sweety, they changed forever. Musicians now make a something from their recordings instead of nothing and the money made from doing live shows has quadrupled, so get on out there and connect with your fans. Shows are the get-off for most musicians aren’t they? Go connect and make money. Most people that are bitching don’t do live shows anymore or at all. I enjoy gardening, consider it my creative relief but I don’t charge people for looking at it.

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