Streaming critic and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne joins royalty board
Young cat listening to music on headphones (Shutterstock)

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, an outspoken critic of the Internet's role on the music business, is heading to Washington to try to turn his views into action.


SoundExchange, which collects royalties from digital broadcasts and advocates policy, announced Thursday that Byrne would join its board of directors, which includes artists and record label representatives.

Byrne said in a statement that he would "leverage my experience as a performing artist and fight on behalf of all creators for fairness and the long-term value of music."

While much of Byrne's catalog is available on streaming services such as Spotify, he has charged that the revenue from online music is far too paltry for artists, particularly those who are lesser known.

"In future, if artists have to rely almost exclusively on the income from these services, they'll be out of work within a year," he wrote in a 2013 essay for the Guardian.

Other prominent foes of streaming include Taylor Swift, who pulled her catalog from Spotify, and Radiohead.

But major music labels have been more enthusiastic about streaming, seeing it as a source of consistent growth after years of financial troubles.

While Byrne can use his new position to advocate policy, SoundExchange does not collect royalties for on-demand services but rather for Internet and satellite broadcasters such as Pandora and Sirius XM.

Pandora this week scored a victory when the Federal Communications Commission gave it the green light to buy a small radio station in South Dakota, potentially allowing the company to pay the cheaper royalty rates to which terrestrial broadcasters are entitled.

SoundExchange, which is based in Washington and has agreements with international partners, says it has distributed more than $2 billion in royalties since 2003.

Byrne, born in Scotland but who has spent his career in New York, became a favorite in arthouse circles in the 1980s as the frontman of the Talking Heads, whose songs such as "Psycho Killer," "Burning Down the House" and "Once in a Lifetime" combined New Wave rock and theater of the absurd.

Since the band's dissolution in 1991, Byrne has remained active in music, theater and film soundtracks.

He has also won acclaim for books including "How Music Works," an autobiography in the guise of a theoretical tract on musicology, and "Bicycle Diaries" about his passion for cycling.