What better way to mark your 20th anniversary, than joining the 21st century?
That’s what Placebo did, by recently placing each of their seven albums on streaming platforms, such as a Spotify and Deezer, for the first time ever.
“We had resisted before, but decided to give it a try,” says frontman Brian Molko. “I sincerely believe there is some work to be done regarding renumeration, serious work, but on the other side, one has to ask oneself, do you remain a Luddite, and do you dictate to people how they consume your music, or do you join in?”
The band have signed a three-year streaming deal, and will reassess when that’s up.
The debate about streaming, particularly revenue, has been happening since Spotify was founded in 2006.
The idea is simple. Users don’t buy music, they just sign up to an account with one of the companies offering such a service - whether it be Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Napster, Google Play Music, or one of the many others - and can then play whatever music they have in their vast libraries (as long as they’re connected to decent broadband or mobile internet, of course). Most streaming services offer monthly subscriptions for about a tenner, so you never hear adverts, and for that, you’ll also receive unlimited play.
Charts have been altered to take streaming into account. Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk notched up almost three million streams since its release last year, keeping it high in the charts ever since.
The problems arise when it comes to paying artists for their work. Taylor Swift famously removed all of her albums from Spotify last year when she released 1989, as she feels streaming is an experiment she’s not willing to give her life’s work to. Many others share her opinion - and when you consider she would earn between 6p and 20p for every song downloaded from iTunes, even more per song for every CD bought, but just 0.34p per stream on Spotify, it’s not hard to see where she’s coming from.
Molko says he and the rest of the Placebo team were mulling over their decision to get involved for two years, before finally saying yes.
“We had a lot of mixed feelings, particularly concerning the money, if I’m honest, but it’s easier with a band like us with a back catalogue, that has sold lots of records, than for a new band trying to eke out a living solely on streaming.”
Interestingly enough, Jay Z has just launched his own service, Tidal, which promises to address this imbalance, with a raft of his friends, including Chris Martin, Jack White and Madonna, signing up.
Sound quality is another thing that concerns Molko, with many services offering lower-quality streams.
“No matter what anyone says, MP3s just don’t cut it,” he says. “They sound like cassettes to my ears, and MP3s work by cutting out low and high frequencies, so the file size is suitably small enough - the idea being that the human ear can’t hear those frequencies, so no one misses them. But you do - the body can feel those notes. Listening to music is a physical experience, and that’s the problem with MP3s.”
He is, however, happier about forthcoming vinyl reissues of their albums.
“It’s the format I fell in love with, and it’s obviously a beautiful object,” he says. “It was basically me and the album in my hand, the gorgeous artwork on the front, a small photo of the band on the back of the sleeve and my imagination.”
The band are currently on tour promoting their seventh album Loud Like Love, and will be until July. If none of them get sick, that is.
Molko, who was born in Belgium, grew up in Dundee and has lived in London for more than 20 years, says he’s been fighting off the flu for a couple of weeks, although he tries not to let it affect his performance on stage.
“You just have to do your best,” says the 42-year-old. “As long as it’s the best that you can do that night, then you come out of it karmically sound, I think. Obviously, your best one night is different to your best another night, but that’s all you can do.
“We all also believe in Dr Theatre [a showbiz phrase meaning unwell artists will somehow recover and get through a performance, before plunging back into illness again afterwards]. And Dr Theatre seems to appear about 15 minutes before we go on stage and takes things in hand and helps us through. The idea of the show just makes you feel better. I’m more likely to get sick when I come off tour and relax for a few days.”
After this one, the trio will have a small break, and then get ready to tour again at the beginning of 2016, to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
“Well, you know...” begins Molko, before pausing for what feels like an age. “I feel very grateful to be in this position after 20 years, and to still have an audience, and an audience that cares, shows up at gigs and is interested in what we’re doing,” he adds. “They’re my true feelings about it, more than any feelings I have about time that’s gone by.
“We’re incredibly privileged. Being in a band is also what I’ve done for my entire adult life. I can’t drive, so I couldn’t drive a cab, I refuse to tend a bar, my computer skills are quite shoddy, so I’m kind of stuck for anything else to do. We have to keep going.
“There’s a lot to be said for putting all your eggs in one basket, determination and just refusing to go away. And in our case, our refusal to go away has got a lot to with the fact that we don’t know what else to do.”
When it comes to touring next year, he says the band are currently talking about what form their shows should take, and what songs they’ll play.
“I think we’ll exhume some of our more popular material,” he says. “It might be a greatest hits tour, but we’ll definitely play songs we haven’t played in a long time, perhaps even playing them for the last time ever.”