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Thom Yorke: Major Labels Are a 'Sinking Ship'

Radiohead frontman offers advice to aspiring musicians in new textbook

June 9, 2010 9:42 AM ET

Thom Yorke's advice to aspiring young musicians: Release music yourself without the help of a major record label. The Radiohead frontman granted a rare interview to the authors of the textbook The Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit , which aims to get high school students more politically involved, and stated that it was "only a matter of time — months rather than years — before the music business establishment completely folds," The London Evening Standard reports. In his interview, Yorke also doled out some advice to students considering a future in music, advising them not sign a major label contract and instead venture out on their own. "I guess I would say, don't tie yourself to the sinking ship because, believe me, it's sinking," Yorke said.

Yorke's comments echo those of Radiohead bandmate Ed O'Brien, who as a leading member of the Featured Artists Coalition is seeking more protection for musicians' rights and more control of their own work. "He is involved in trying to build a world where artists would finally get paid," Yorke told the authors of the textbook. "But we are up against the self-protecting interests of that industry."

After releasing six albums on major label EMI — from Radiohead's 1993 debut Pablo Honey through 2003's Hail to the Thief — the band went through a bitter split with the label when their contract expired and renegotiations stalled. Instead of resigning with EMI — who have also seen the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney leave after the company was purchased by equity firm Terra Firma — Radiohead instead opted to self-release their last album In Rainbows, famously devising a "pay what you want" method that allowed fans to put a price on the album. When it came time to physically release In Rainbows to the masses, Radiohead inked with TBD Records, an offshoot of Dave Matthews' ATO Records.

As Rolling Stone previously reported, Radiohead's publishers revealed that the band made more money from the pre-release of In Rainbows (including the combined sales of the "pay what you want" and boxed set options) than they made on their last major label album Hail to the Thief — in total. Despite essentially giving away their album for free two months prior to its physical release, In Rainbows still debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts on January 1st, 2008. (Radiohead admitted that most people opted to pay nothing to download the album.) As Yorke told the authors of The Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit, "When the corporate industry dies it will be no great loss to the world."

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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