During the Web Summit Conference in Dublin last week, U2 front man Bono shared a stage with House of Cards producer Dana Brunetti and Soundcloud founder and CEO Eric Wahlflors. The segment of the conference was entitled “Movies & Music in the 21st Century.” The trio spoke with David Carr of the New York Times about “music and movies in a digital age as they discuss and debate the advantages and the challenges of disruption in this space.”
Bono brought a very different perspective to the topic of music streaming than Taylor Swift has been hawking for the past week.
“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the creators of this music,” Swift said about streaming models, and Spotify particularly.
While Swift lumps legitimate streaming services like Spotify in with illegal “piracy” and “file sharing” as driving down profits, Bono knows his business.
"Spotify [is] giving up 70 percent of all [its] revenues to rights owners. It’s just that people don’t know where the money is because the record labels haven’t been transparent," Bono pointed out.
"The real enemy is not between digital downloads or streaming, the real enemy, the real fight is between opacity and transparency. The music business has historically involved itself in quite considerable deceit," he continued. "But if we change that bit, and people can actually see how many times they're being played, where they're being played, get access to information on the people who are listening to them, get paid direct debit... I think those payments will add up to something, as the world gets more transparent."
Bono knows about this “deceit” firsthand. He and his U2 bandmates had quite the fight with their own label back in the early days of music downloads. Record companies often glossed over the coming digital revolution when time came to re-up contracts with bands. The hope was that the artists were ignorant of how big downloads were going to become and would sign away their rights to them without due diligence.
U2 did no such thing.
Bono does agree with Swift, who said that artists should “realize their worth and ask for it.” But his approach is the opposite of hers.
"I think artists should be paid way more than they are," he explained. "But the greatest way you serve your songs is to get them heard."
Bono thinks that Spotify and other such services that get a bands songs out to a wider audience is a good thing for newer bands.
"I'm already paid too much. I'm a spoiled rock star," he said. "I'm the wrong spokesperson for this, but I have to tell you if I were starting a band now, aged 17 or 18, I would be very excited... Though it is clear that there are some traumas as we move from physical to digital and 20th century to 21st century, and the people paying the highest price for those traumas are songwriters rather than performers, I still think forming a band is so exciting."