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(Credit: David Byrne Facebook)


David Byrne's word of warning about the how internet ruins creativity


David Byrne has always had his eyes firmly planted into the future. Whether through his progressive approach to music or, conversely, Byrne’s fears about how technological advancement will ultimately hinder creativity has lingered for years.

In 2013, Byrne addressed his worries about this nuanced subject in an open letter. Almost a decade after his claims, how much of what he said has become true? At the time of writing, streaming services were just beginning to become the dominant method for people to discover music, and Byrne could only see it ending one way.

The former Talking Heads leader was worried that, in order to survive and become an artist in the modern-day who can afford to do so on a full-time basis, then there will have to be some sacrifice, which will ultimately weaken arts across the board.

With that, it was not just music that Byrne believed would suffer due to the consumer paying for subscription models such as Netflix, and it will also dampen every discipline. Speaking about Spotify specifically, Byrne told The Guardian: “I’d be even more curious if the folks who ‘discover’ music on these services then go on to purchase it. Why would you click and go elsewhere and pay when the free version is sitting right in front of you? Am I crazy?”.

Byrne raises a critical point, and the pandemic highlighted just how reliant musicians have become on performing live to make it full-time. Many could no longer rely on their income from streaming services or sales to pay the bills, which led to them returning to a more conventional workplace. However, he didn’t point any blame towards the consumer, and instead raised the question: “Why would you ever buy a CD or pay for a download when you can stream your favourite albums and artists either for free or for a nominal monthly charge?”.

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Later in the piece, Byrne predicted: “Musicians might, for now, challenge the major labels and get a fairer deal than 15% of a pittance, but it seems to me that the whole model is unsustainable as a means of supporting creative work of any kind. Not just music. The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left”.

It’s now nearly ten years since Byrne made this prophecy, and thankfully, creativity is yet to be sucked out of the music industry because of the internet. Although musicians are becoming slaves to the algorithm in some areas, fortunately, that’s not a trend that everyone has succumbed to following.

Byrne added: “Without new artists coming up, our future as a musical culture looks grim. A culture of blockbusters is sad, and ultimately it’s bad for business. That’s not the world that inspired me when I was younger. Many a fan (myself included) has said that ‘music saved my life’, so there must be some incentive to keep that lifesaver available for future generations”.

While Byrne might eventually be proven right about how the internet destroys creativity, in truth, it’s allowed many artists to be heard who wouldn’t have done otherwise. However, whether this surge of expression is being met with just financial rewards links to he the key issue Byrne raised about these technological firms, who have no interest in the welfare of musicians, but, instead, only care for maximising profits.

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