Radiohead surrendered to Spotify—but may have won the war

Winning the internet.
Winning the internet.
Image: AP Photo/Dave Martin
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You can’t build up a massive digital fanbase or cleverly tease your new album online for weeks without being extremely internet-savvy, and that’s what Radiohead is—a band purposefully, meticulously in tune with technology.

So there is major significance in Radiohead’s latest move today (June 17): putting its new album A Moon Shaped Pool on Spotify, a platform the band’s frontman Thom Yorke once vilified as ”the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” For years, Yorke threw intense shade at the streaming company for maintaining a free ad-supported tier, which pays relatively little to artists compared to subscription tiers. Now he’s making his new album, as well as some previous releases, available on Spotify.

It’s highly unlikely the digitally conscious Yorke had a sudden change of heart about free music on Spotify. Instead, the two parties may be coming to terms that more broadly satisfy everyone’s needs.

According to industry sources cited by trade publication Music Ally, Spotify was “in advanced discussions” with Radiohead about making A Moon Shaped Pool available only on its Premium tier (i.e., to paying subscribers). It would be the first time Spotify ever made such a move. “Some of the approaches we explored with Radiohead were new, and we ultimately decided that we couldn’t deliver on those approaches technologically in time for the album’s release schedule,” Spotify spokesman Jonathan Prince told Music Ally.

But Prince’s comments suggest Spotify has readied its business model for a subscriber-only album release—and may well have one in the near future. That certainly speeds up the timeline for rumors from last December that Spotify would eventually let some artists release music exclusively to paying users, thus raising artists’ profits.

If, or when, Spotify makes the change, it would run contrary to CEO Daniel Ek’s original insistence that all music should be free. But at a time when big artists like Adele and Taylor Swift have been shunning the service left and right, Spotify may have realized it can’t afford to cling to old principles anymore.

In this light, Radiohead’s appearance on the platform is something of a truce: the band is signaling respect for Spotify’s near-future plans to pay artists more, and Spotify is recognizing the pressing need for that change.