The members of Metallica have been among the harshest critics of technology and digital devaluation. Now, the group bowing down to YouTube and the digital machine they raged against.
When it comes to YouTube haters, Metallica has been one of the biggest. The group has flatly refused to license their content for YouTube, while fighting unauthorized uploads.
But they’ve been outspoken critics of almost every major music technology disruption since the late 90s. They sued Napster, refused to license iTunes, refused to license Spotify, and generally raged against digital music devaluation and hypocrisy. They stood by their guns, even if it meant damaging their own careers.
This year, the band singled out YouTube for paying the lowest and robbing artists. Just like before, they issued strong statements against YouTube for robbing artists, devaluing music, and generally being evil.
How evil? Here’s what Metallica’s manager, Peter Mensch, said just a few months ago. The comments were made in a BBC Radio 4 documentary.
“YouTube, they’re the devil,” he told a on the music business. “We don’t get paid at all. If someone doesn’t do something about YouTube, we’re screwed. It’s over. Someone turn off the lights.”
That was back in April of this year. And here’s what YouTube looks like this morning:
That’s right, a full-blown Metallica TV channel, complete with all the videos from their latest album.
So is Metallica simply surrendering, just like every other mega-artist?
Metallica’s about-face closely follows a similar move from Radiohead. Just yesterday, Digital Music News learned that Radiohead had uploaded their entire catalog to Spotify. That includes free, ad-supported access tiers, something the band vowed never to do. In fact, just three years ago, Radiohead called Spotify ‘the last desperate fart of a dying corpse’.
Others are also giving in, with digital powerhouses like YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Apple refusing to make concessions. Or, alter payouts. But Metallica, like many other legacy bands, have now licensed Spotify, Apple Music, and others, perhaps out of fear that abstaining could make them irrelevant.
That’s right: the platforms may have more power than the artists themselves. In fact, that’s exactly what this is looking like. Technology has eaten the music industry.
Ironically, Metallica’s catalog also appeared on Napster this week. Of course, the original Napster was buried nearly two decades ago, and the reincarnation is a legitimate, paying platform. But that doesn’t mean their digital payouts are anything close to what Metallica was earning before Napster appeared.
Symbolically, it says everything about Metallica and the choices they’ve been forced to make.