David Byrne and Radiohead's Thom Yorke talk music biz

David Byrne interviewed Radiohead's Thom Yorke for Wired Magazine about Radiohead's In Rainbows, an album that was released on a pay-what-you-care-to basis online. The conversation is fascinating -- as is anything that David Byrne is involved with. Byrne is not only my all-time favorite musician, he's one of my favorite thinkers and writers too (and a kick-ass blogger besides). Wired's done a great job with the online presentation of the piece, adding in audio from the interview and video of Radiohead performing.

Byrne: I've been thinking about how distribution and CDs and record shops and all that stuff are changing. But we're talking about music. What is music, what does music do for people? What do people get from it? What's it for? That's the thing that's being exchanged. Not all the other stuff. The other stuff is the shopping cart that holds some of it.

Yorke: It's a delivery service.

Byrne: But people will still pay to have that experience. You create a community with music, not just at concerts but by talking about it with your friends. By making a copy and handing it to your friends, you've established a relationship. The implication is that they're now obligated to give you something back.

Yorke: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was just thinking while you were saying that: How does a record company get their hands on that? It makes me think of the No Logo book where Naomi Klein describes how the Nike people would pay guys to get down with the kids on the street. I know for a fact that major record labels do the same thing. But no one has ever explained to me exactly how. I mean, do they lurk around in the discussion boards and post "Have you heard the..."? Maybe they do. And then I was thinking about that Johnny Cash film, when Cash walks in and says, "I want to do a live record in a prison," and his label thinks he's bonkers. Yet at the same time, it was able to somehow understand what kids wanted and give it to him. Whereas now, I think there's a lack of understanding. It's not about who's ripping off whom, and it's not about legal injunctions, and it's not about DRM and all that sort of stuff. It's about whether the music affects you or not. And why would you worry about an artist or a company going after people copying their music if the music itself is not valued?


(Image: a downrezzed crop from a photo entitled "Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (left) and David Byrne" by James Day)

See also:
Radiohead's new downloadable album: DRM-Free!
Radiohead lets fans pick price for new album
Radiohead downloads were just a tactic to boost CD sales?


  1. Thanks for pointing this out- very interesting.

    Oh, and I feel the exact same way about Byrne.

    Could there be a cooler pair to discuss this? Honestly.

  2. “By making a copy and handing it to your friends, you’ve established a relationship. The implication is that they’re now obligated to give you something back.”

    I disagree. Back when we made mix tapes I never expected something in return. I wanted to share an experience. “Hey. I enjoy this music. I think you’ll enjoy this music, too.” Just connecting with somebody, that’s all.

  3. “I disagree. Back when we made mix tapes I never expected something in return.”

    I think you’re right and wrong about this. Although I never expected another mixtape in return, I always expected some sort of commentary or discussion from the recipient of the tape. To accept a tape and never respond to how you liked it or didn’t was bad form.

  4. Thanks for posting links and a place to discuss this great topic. I just posted a brief comment on my blog and will probably write out more thoughts through the day.

    Reciprocity. It’s in our genetic make up. If someone gives you something, don’t you feel the tug of responsibility to give back? You might not choose to, but you know you ‘should.’

    Reciprocity is also necessary for artists to make a living. After all, art in its most naked form is experiences created and freely given. Reciprocal giving then validates the art. If payment comes before the giving, perhaps that fact signifies commerce, not art.

  5. I disagree with #2 and agree with #3.

    You’re getting something. Energy is not free and infinite. We’ve invented ingenious ways to cover and ignore this fact, but we only have so much time and energy for the things we do. Even if it’s as simple as scratching the itch of needing to “…share an experience”, that’s still something. Something I think we all too often marginalize in our culture where material value is worshiped as an absolute.

    When I used to make mix tapes and when I now make playlists, the whole process is rewarding. And even more rewarding considering a potential future audience.

  6. David Byrne is clearly moved by the music which, besides being a huge compliment to the band, is pretty moving in itself. I love this interview, it fits.

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