Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Radiohead and the new reality

New Radiohead music on YouTube and Spotify: so what does it all mean?

The laughing lads are back

Wed, May 4, 2016, 08:46


Never say never. Last night, a brace of tweets from Pitchfork summed up the Radiohead u-turn with “Burn the Witch” in a perfect, pithy manner.

Of course, describing online services as “Nazis” or the “fart of a dying corpse” doesn’t mean you’re not going to use them when needs be. Yesterday, Thom Yorke and his band of merry men stuck their new track “Burn the Witch” up on YouTube and Spotify. At the time of writing, there’s around 3.33 million views for Chris Hopewell‘s lovely video on the former so Radiohead fans don’t have any problem checking out that particular service. It’s not yet in the band’s top 10 tracks on Spotify with fans prefering “Creep”, “Fake Plastic Trees” and other earlier songs from the band’s career. Me, I prefer this one to those ones but that’s probably me for you.

When you’re sitting at a keyboard and have a blank page in front of you, you can read a lot into things. Look at the amount of pieces written about the band deleting their tweets and other web stuff as part of the campaign behind this new track and inevitable album coming down the tracks. A lot of type went into trying to work out why the band were going mad with the delete button. And the fact that the band have shown this kind of love to YouTube and Spotify could also be construed as telling.

But what it’s really showing is that the band are realists. You can kick and fume and give out all you like about these giant streaming services but if you know what side your bread is buttered on, you’ll do a deal because this is where music is going. The hardcore fans will still buy the physical product or the downloads but the vast majority of music fans are moving or have moved to streaming. The streamers have won – for now anyway, because something else will be coming down the tracks within a decade. Be sure of that. But also be sure that when you have a mainstream-friendly track like “Burn the Witch”, sticking it on YouTube and Spotify is a good move.

It would be interesting for music business nerds to know if Radiohead have negotiated a specific deal with a higher royalty rate for the new single and album with the streaming services or if it’s under the umbrella of an existing XL deal. They have the muscle, after all, to do so and wouldn’t be shy of using it like their peers have done of late. When Beyonce and Drake used Tidal and Apple Music respectively to pimp their latest releases, you can be sure they used leverage to get the possible deal for themselves. That’s what the boys at Courtyard Management would have done.

After all of these enjoyable shenanigans, it will be interesting to see what they have up their sleeves for the album. Music aside, Radiohead are a band who seem genuinely interested in shaking things up when it comes to releases and campaigns (something which Brian Message from ATC Management, who is a partner in the Courtyard Management team which manages the band, addresses in the Banter interview from Web Summit below). For a band seen as so anti that kind of thing, they’re actually dab hands at knowing what buttons and switches to press to get the possible bang for their buck. Perhaps they’ll blank the streaming services and make the album available only to those who turn up at a field outside Oxford at 5.33am some morning. Now, that would be something to behold.