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Talking Heads' David Byrne: streaming music will 'suck creative content' out of the world

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David Byrne (Flickr)
David Byrne (Flickr)

Spotify, Rdio, and a host of other streaming services are quickly becoming one of the de-facto ways for consumers to get their hands on music legally, and the debate continues to rage over whether or not that's a good or bad thing for musicians. Plenty of wealthy and established musicians have weighed in — Pink Floyd recently came out against Pandora (though the band's drummer thinks Spotify is just great), Thom Yorke of Radiohead and some of his cohorts think the streaming model doesn't work at all, and now Talking Heads mastermind David Byrne is weighing in. In a lengthly editorial published by The Guardian, Byrne ruminates on how the internet will eventually destroy the music industry — a sentiment we've been hearing for over a decade now.

"The inevitable result [of on-demand services like Spotify and Netflix] would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left," Byrne writes. While it sounds a bit alarmist, he more calmly posits that "that model doesn't seem sustainable if it becomes the dominant form of consumption." He cites Netflix as an example, saying that if the $8-per-month instant subscription becomes the main way people consume and pay for movies and TV, "things will change very quickly."

Domination and monopoly is the name of the game in the web marketplace.

Byrne also notes that he himself isn't likely to be financially affected by this sea change in consumption, but smaller, less established artists will be the ones who suffer. "In the future, if artists have to rely almost exclusively on the income from these services, they'll be out of work within a year," says Byrne. He believes that the money new artists make from touring won't be enough to pay the bills — and allow the artist to survive long enough to find a large enough fanbase to make a living. The endgame that Byrne sees is "a culture of blockbusters" that he calls "bad for business."

Of course, Byrne doesn't note that we're a long, long way from a world in which the streaming model is the dominant form of music consumption. In the US in 2012, digital album sales increased 14 percent, while digital single sales increased 5.1 percent to 1.3 billion on the year — a figure that Nielsen says was a SoundScan record. That's a trend Byrne would undoubtably like to see continue in the US and abroad, but he worries that eventually Spotify or one of its competitors will completely dominate the music market, to the pain of musicans everywhere. "My guess is that, as with most web-based businesses, only one will be left standing in the end," says Byrne. "There aren't two Facebooks or Amazons. Domination and monopoly is the name of the game in the web marketplace."