James Blake on TikTok, Streaming Economics: "The Brainwashing Worked and Now People Think Music Is Free"

“If we want quality music somebody is gonna have to pay for it"

Photo: Thibaut Grevet

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Mar 5, 2024

Pretty much every think-piece I've read on the whole TikTok vs. UMG debacle have the same core messaging: it's the artists and songwriters who are facing the brunt of Universal's catalogue being removed from the platform, even though the standoff between the two companies is allegedly in their interest.

James Blake, who had a livestream-ripped cover of Frank Ocean's "Godspeed" — one of the multiple Blonde tracks he co-produced and played on — go viral on the short-form video app back in the early pandemic days of 2020, is the latest musician to weigh in on how fucked up current music industry economics are, pointing out that neither he nor Ocean “ever made a cent.”

After originally sharing his thoughts via Instagram Story over the weekend, Blake honoured sharing requests with a grid post. “Remember when my ‘Godspeed’ cover went viral? Neither me nor Frank ever made a cent cause it was an ‘original sound’ in every video,” he wrote. “Most people didn’t even know it was me because my name didn’t show up. Next time your fave goes viral remember they aren’t making shit off that. The industry is beyond fucked and musicians are getting fucked harder than anyone.”

The producer went on to say that, while the “chopped and screwed (sped up/slowed)” variations of a song favoured by TikTok and Reels (that aren't the original release, and thus aren't monetized) already isn’t great, but the impact on the people writing and arranging the songs goes far deeper with the “attention deficit” of both listeners and musicians, the pressure to be good at social media and the accessibility of metrics.

Blake expanded his thoughts further in a series of tweets, continuing, “Something I keep seeing is ‘if you’re lucky enough to go viral, just use the exposure to generate income some other way.’ Musicians should be able to generate income via their music. Do you want good music or do you want what you paid for?”

“If we want quality music somebody is gonna have to pay for it,” he said. “Streaming services don’t pay properly, labels want a bigger cut than ever and just sit and wait for you to go viral, TikTok doesn’t pay properly, and touring is getting prohibitively expensive for most artists."

"The brainwashing worked and now people think music is free," Blake concluded. "And by the way, since it’s cheaper to produce fast, synthetic music to drop on streaming every week to capitalize on the strengths of the model, watch how the model is preparing you for AI generated music that pays musicians nothing at all.”

Numerous musicians, including BADBADNOGOOD, Metro Boomin, Dev Hynes and Tyler, the Creator, have agreed with Blake’s sentiments in the comments. It all really puts the title of his most recent album, Playing Robots into Heaven, into chilling perspective.

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