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Steve Albini Says the Internet Solved ‘The Problem With Music’

Steve Albini, Internet, "The Problem With Music"

Steve Albini isn’t one to mince words, so when he praises the free online distribution of music, it’s worth taking notice. That’s particularly true considering the ongoing discussion involving Spotify, Beats Music, Pandora, Bandcamp, and more, with the likes of Thom Yorke, David Byrne, and Dave Allen making various arguments on the subject. And yet there it is, in black-and-white: The iconic producer and engineer behind Nirvana’s In Utero told Quartz, “The single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock, is being able to share music, globally for free.”

“Record labels, which used to have complete control, are essentially irrelevant,” he’s quoted as saying. “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.”

That said, the interview — pegged, maybe belatedly, to the 20th anniversary of Albini’s 1993 The Baffler essay “The Problem With Music” — isn’t all favorable for the online streaming business. Sure, Albini says that talking about the compensation for a Spotify stream in terms of a radio audience is “like complaining that cars are going faster than horses.” But he doesn’t sound particularly excited about trying out whatever the latest app might be himself, arguing that streaming services “are extremely convenient for people who aren’t genuine music fans.”

Also, this: “You can literally have a worldwide audience for your music … with no corporate participation,” right next to a mention of YouTube, which is owned by Google, one of the world’s biggest corporations. Albini reportedly sees himself, local record stores, small recording studios, and indie record labels more like niche artisans that are getting by on a “thrifty entpreneurial spirit.”

He concludes:

“On balance, the things that have happened because of the Internet have 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.”

Hey buddy, can you spare a siphoning hose?