What better way to mark your 20th anniversary, than joining the 21st century?
That’s what Placebo did, by recently placing each of their seven albums on streaming platforms, such as a Spotify and Deezer, for the first time ever.
“We had resisted before, but decided to give it a try,” says frontman Brian Molko. “I sincerely believe there is some work to be done regarding renumeration, serious work, but on the other side, one has to ask oneself, do you remain a Luddite, and do you dictate to people how they consume your music, or do you join in?”
The band has signed a three-year streaming deal, and will reassess when that’s up.
The debate about streaming, particularly revenue, has been happening since Spotify was founded in 2006.
The idea is simple. Users don’t buy music, they just sign up to an account with one of the companies offering such a service - whether it be Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Napster, Google Play Music, or one of the many others - and can then play whatever music they have in their vast libraries (as long as they’re connected to decent broadband or mobile internet, of course). Most streaming services offer monthly subscriptions for about a tenner, so you never hear adverts, and for that, you’ll also receive unlimited play.
Charts have been altered to take streaming into account. Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk notched up almost three million streams since its release last year, keeping it high in the charts ever since.
The problems arise when it comes to paying artists for their work. Taylor Swift famously removed all of her albums from Spotify last year when she released 1989, as she feels streaming is an experiment she’s not willing to give her life’s work to. Many others share her opinion - and when you consider she would earn between 6p and 20p for every song downloaded from iTunes, even more per song for every CD bought, but just 0.34p per stream on Spotify, it’s not hard to see where she’s coming from.
Molko says he and the rest of the Placebo team were mulling over their decision to get involved for two years, before finally saying yes.
“We had a lot of mixed feelings, particularly concerning the money, if I’m honest, but it’s easier with a band like us with a back catalogue, that has sold lots of records, than for a new band trying to eke out a living solely on streaming.”
Jay Z has just launched his own service, Tidal, which promises to address this imbalance, with a raft of his friends, including Chris Martin, Jack White and Madonna, signing up.
Sound quality is another thing that concerns Molko, with many services offering lower-quality streams.
“No matter what anyone says, MP3s just don’t cut it,” he says. “They sound like cassettes to my ears, and MP3s work by cutting out low and high frequencies, so the file size is suitably small enough - the idea being that the human ear can’t hear those frequencies, so no one misses them. But you do - the body can feel those notes. Listening to music is a physical experience, and that’s the problem with MP3s.”
He is, however, happier about forthcoming vinyl reissues of their albums.
“It’s the format I fell in love with, and it’s obviously a beautiful object,” he says. “It was basically me and the album in my hand, the gorgeous artwork on the front, a small photo of the band on the back of the sleeve and my imagination.”
The band are currently on tour promoting their seventh album Loud Like Love.
lPlacebo’s back catalogue is now available on streaming services including Spotify and Deezer. Their latest album, Loud Like Love, is out now.