Pink Floyd's Roger Waters: Silicon Valley is 'a gallery of rogues and thieves'

Technically Incorrect: Railing against the digital takeover of music, Waters says that he was lucky to be a part of the true music business, not the allegedly thieving one it is today.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Roger Waters thinks nerds have ruined music. Roger Waters Vevo/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The world of music used to be blissful.

The truly talented would rise like balloons let go by a child. They would make money hand over fist. A deep justice pervaded that was envied by each member of the Supreme Court.

"Why can't the rest of the world be like the music industry?" a young Antonin Scalia was once heard to mutter.

Then along came Silicon Valley. It replaced rhythm with algorithm. It heard tunes and turned them into the iSore called iTunes. While the music industry took a nap, it got Napstered by robotic humans whose every utterance made Kraftwerk seem as loose and melodious as Celine Dion.

This is not my imagination talking. It's my pitch document for a new rock opera entitled: "Into The Valley of Death."

I was inspired, you see, by the words of Pink Floyd great Roger Waters. Speaking to London's Times (paywall), he lamented what had happened to the wondrous music industry.

He said he was glad to have been born in 1943, not 1983. He was glad "to have been around when there was a music business and the takeover by Silicon Valley hadn't happened."

But surely there's a music business still. Only the other day, I saw Jay Z and many of his famous friends declaring they wanted to make even more business out of music.

As far as Waters is concerned, in the old days "you could still make a living writing and recording songs and playing them to people."

This was apparently a time when "this gallery of rogues and thieves had not yet interjected themselves between the people who aspire to be creative and their potential audience and steal every f***ing cent anybody ever made and put it in their pockets to buy f***ing huge mega-yachts and Gulfstream Fives."

This does smack of slight exaggeration, not to mention a tinge of myopia.

It's not as if Kanye and Taylor Swift have been caught busking together in rags on the New York subway. And in olden days, the talent did occasionally discover that their management had run off with their money.

The Sex Pistols were just one band which suddenly found itself having to sue for royalties that had allegedly not come to them, but went instead to, well, management (known to some as rogues and thieves).

Only in January, Sly Stone was awarded $5 million for royalties that had somehow escaped his bank account to run free in the wind.

Today, moreover, musicians have many more ways to make money than they had in Waters' supposedly gilded times. The barriers to entry are low. The ability to communicate with true fans is very high.

There are certainly critics of the streaming model. Digital access has also created a monstrous overload that has brought with it ease and confusion in equal measure.

Of course rogues and thieves populate Silicon Valley. This is because rogues and thieves tend to congregate around money, as they always have. It's a constant hum that feeds their venal souls.

Perhaps the biggest rogues and thieves, though, are us. Give us something right now and we'll take it. Give us something for free and we'll take that too. Give us something for free right now and we'll think that life just couldn't be any better.

Waters recognizes this to some extent. He said: "I mean why not make everything free? Then you could walk into a shop and say 'I like that television' and you walk out with it. No! Somebody made that and you have to buy it! 'Oh, I'll just pick up few apples.' No! Some farmer grew those and brought them here to be sold!"

You used to pay for classified ads. The Craigslist came along. Was this also the work of rogues and thieves? You be the jury.

The world has changed. That's what the world does. Oh, it's only rock and roll and you don't have to like it.