Pink Floyd makes peace with music streaming: drummer says it “might work”

Legendary band Pink Floyd made waves this summer when it publicly blasted online radio service Pandora (S P) for conspiring to cheat musicians out of a fair royalty rate. The accusations, set out in a public letter, touched off a debate over whether streaming services are bad for the bad industry.

Now, though, the debate is taking a new direction as Pink Floyd’s drummer (and one of the signatories to the letter) appears to have had a change of heart about streaming music services.

“Streaming .. is beginning to look like it might work for the artist.. Initially, streaming was seen as a form of piracy but it’s beginning to become a commercial possibility,” Nick Mason told an audience on Thursday at the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Cafe in London.

As some have noted, Mason’s words may not be such a surprise given that Pink Floyd signed a deal with Spotify in June; in the Journal interview, Mason referred several times to Spotify but not to Pandora. (Pink Floyd’s music label, EMI, signed a deal with Spotify in 2011 but did not include the band’s catalogue).

Other comments by Mason suggest he believes musicians’ struggle to make money lies more with record companies and the structure of the music industry, rather than technology. He pointed out that its hard for new musicians to climb up the traditional ladder when the bottom rungs simply aren’t there anymore; Cracker’s David Lowrey, another strident Pandora critic, has made the same point.

But what about solutions? Mason suggested more musicians should sit on copyright and royalty boards to oversee how the money flows; it’s a good idea, and one that will help prevent an ongoing pattern of theft by middlemen. He added that the industry as a whole can embrace Spotify and other streaming services in a way that directs more money to musicians:

“I would like to see 50-50 between the recording company and the artist and an increase in the amount of streaming.”

Mason also observed that music fans, in an era where recorded music is cheap and everywhere, have come to value live performances more than ever, meaning concerts and merchandise are musicians’ best bet to earn money.

Many musicians, of course, will be quick to point out that, unlike Pink Floyd, they can’t make a living from concerts. But the idea of trying to build a new economic eco-system to support music, rather than trying to recreate an outdated one, appears more promising than simply lashing out at technology.

Clarification: This story was updated on Thursday afternoon to refer to Pink Floyd’s deal with Spotify.