INTERVIEW: Todd Rundgren Says Musicians Need to Stop Whining About Spotify

If the Upper Darby native’s feisty mood is any indication—taking on fans stuck in the past, peers complaining about streaming services, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—his December 13th show at the Keswick should be a barnburner.


Todd Rundgren | Photo by Rob Shanahan

It’s hard to imagine two more different environments: Upper Darby and Hawaii. Has living in the tropics affected your creative process? The greatest effect is that I’m just so far away. I can’t simply call some friends up and say, “Hey, let’s go do a session.” So I mostly do everything myself, partly because I don’t have the resources to fly someone in from the mainland every time I have an idea for a song.

You’ve historically embraced new music technology. Are you fully digital these days? I’ve made what’s probably the final transition, so it’s pretty economical to make a record. All I need is my laptop and an audio interface and away we go.

But not all technology is kind to artists, right? We hear so many complaints about services like Spotify, with musicians claiming they’re being ripped off. Somebody’s always going to wind up believing that they’re getting screwed out of something. But in the end, the performers don’t have much to complain about. They become popular on Spotify, they sell more concert tickets. It’s that simple.

A friend who only knows your early material saw you at a recent Philly show and was disappointed by the content. Does a fan like that have no place at a 2015 concert? That tour was built around a batch of new music, and I’ve often done things that have perplexed even my most devoted fans. Other times, my shows will be more of a retrospective, and as a matter of fact, that’s what I’m doing on this tour.

You don’t feel a responsibility to always play your hits? It is very perturbing to have someone who seems to have been in a coma for the last 40 years, thinking nothing has ever changed. Am I supposed to go back and capitalize on the first batch of songs I wrote for the rest of my freaking life? As the audience grows older, they get stiff, and suddenly they’re not open to new ideas.

How does the aging audience affect the economics of what you do? They don’t go out as much. They aren’t the avid music consumers that they used to be, so it becomes harder to base your livelihood on them. For someone like me who has been in this business for 50 years, you can’t survive without refreshing the audience and getting younger ears to listen to what you’re doing, because by the time you get to my age, your audience is dying. Literally. I study what the younger audience is listening to and try to exploit it if possible. And I have to keep touring. I don’t have the advantage of a long string of hit records. Those artists only have to go out every couple of years. I have to tour constantly.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will announce the 2016 inductees this month, and some of your fans have long argued that you are an egregious omission—the same argument that Hall & Oates fans made before their heroes were inducted in 2014. Are you hoping to be nominated one day? I wish they wouldn’t. I hope they don’t. These things don’t exist because of the merit of the artists in the Hall of Fame. They are designed to sell more records. Every time you have a ceremony, those artists sell more records. It’s a second shot for a lot of them. For me, I’m so uncomfortable with the thought of it. I wish my fans would not care as much as I don’t care.

Todd Rundgren plays Keswick Theatre on Sunday, December 13th. For tickets and more information, go here

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