A chorus of fart sounds. Loud ones.
I’m seated across from the UK folk band Mumford & Sons in a spacious apartment in downtown Manhattan, and the subject of Jay Z’s recent subscription music service Tidal comes up. You know, the $20-per-month artist-owned streaming music site offering high-fidelity audio and exclusive video clips to gullible starfuckers that was unveiled in a gaudy, live-streamed circle jerk wherein a murderer’s row of multimillionaire artists—Jay Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Madonna, Jack White, Daft Punk, Kanye West, etc.—proclaimed they were out to “forever change the course of music history” before signing a declaration of independence. All in all it was a ridiculous, wildly out of touch spectacle.
To Mumford & Sons, the very mention of Tidal is greeted by a series of loud fart sounds. And no, they were not asked by Mr. Z to join Team Tidal.
“We wouldn’t have joined it anyway, even if they had asked. We don’t want to be tribal,” says frontman Marcus Mumford. “I think smaller bands should get paid more for it, too. Bigger bands have other ways of making money, so I don’t think you can complain. A band of our size shouldn’t be complaining. And when they say it’s artist-owned, it’s owned by those rich, wealthy artists.”
Now, Mumford & Sons aren’t struggling. Their sophomore album, Babel, was nominated for eight Grammy Awards—winning Album of the Year—and also achieved the distinction of highest-selling debut of the year, with 600,000 copies sold in its first week alone. And while they’re not down with Tidal, they also don’t support Taylor Swift’s anti-Spotify stance, which she revealed in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal last year.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare,” wrote Swift. “Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”
Mumford & Sons guitarist Winston Marshall also has harsh words for Tidal, calling the A-list artists who participated in the aforementioned ceremony “new school fucking plutocrats.”
“We don’t want to be part of some Tidal ‘streaming revolution’ nor do we want to be Taylor Swift and be anti-it,” Marshall says. “I don’t understand her argument, either. The focus is slightly missed. Music is changing. It’s fucking changing. This is how people are going to listen to music now—streaming. So diversify as a band. It doesn’t mean selling your songs to adverts. We look at our albums as stand-alone pieces of art, and also as adverts for our live shows.”
Adds Mumford, “What I’m not into is the tribalistic aspect of it—people trying to corner bits of the market, and put their face on it. That’s just commercial bullshit. We hire people to do that for us rather than having to do that ourselves. We just want to play music, and I don’t want to align myself with Spotify, Beats, Tidal, or whatever. We want people to listen to our music in their most comfortable way, and if they’re not up for paying for it, I don’t really care.”
Despite their objections to Tidal, the group feels that it’s a very exciting time to be a young, new band. Technology (and the Internet) has now made it possible for bands to record and release music divorced from the record industry apparatus—via YouTube, Soundcloud, recording apps, you name it.
“Smaller bands have a better opportunity in the music industry now than they’ve ever had, because you don’t need to have a record deal to have your music listened to worldwide,” Mumford says. “It’s democratized the music industry. So as much as it sucks, and they need to figure out how to represent people fairly financially, you’ve never been able to get your music listened to more easily.”
This is a portion of a longer profile of Mumford & Sons that will run next week on The Daily Beast.