The Black Keys Think Spotify Is Fine For Indie Artists, Not So Much For Them

Posted December 13

The question of whether or not bands should put their music on Spotify has been a hot one lately, as several small record labels deflected from the site and bigger acts like Tom Waits and Adele refrained from offering up their new albums on the service. Well, VH1 News caught up with one of Spotify’s most recent abstainers, The Black Keys, to see why they decided to make fans pay for El Camino.

You can check out the video above, but the general gist of the band’s argument is scale: Indie artists benefit from the service because it provides exposure, while larger bands — who don’t need the hype — just lose out on album sales.

“[Streaming services] are becoming more popular, but it still isn’t at a point where you’re able to replace royalties from record sales with the royalties from streams,” drummer Patrick Carney told VH1. “For a band that makes a living selling music, it’s not at a point where it’s feasible for us.”

(It should be noted, however, that the band’s popular single, “Lonely Boy,” is available on the service, serving as a sort of teaser for fans looking for more.)

On the other hand, Carney does see services like Spotify and Pandora as advantageous to smaller bands, as they provide them with a lot more visibility and reach.

Carney’s argument makes a lot of sense in some ways. Personally, I don’t steal music, so before Spotify etc came along I was kind of hurting for tunes (listening to the amount of music that I do can be expensive). If El Camino had been available on Spotify, it would have been highly unlikely that I would have purchased the album — unless it was on vinyl at a show or part of an awesome special edition. Therefore, yes, the band is losing money when it comes to honest fans who don’t fileshare.

Still, what about those less-than-honest folks? Spotify’s big conceit when it comes to offering up music on a subscription basis has oft been: “Hey, it’s better than piracy.” An argument that some bands aren’t quite content with yet. Is it really better to accept less than sticker price just because it’s better than straight-out theft? Should you really have to rely on merch sales and an exhaustive touring schedule to make money? That’s been the refrain we’ve been hearing for years now: “Bands don’t make money on music anymore. It’s the other stuff than brings in the cash.”

We’re still in the infancy stage when it comes to music subscription services — even though digital music and its dissemination first cropped up years ago in the Napster era — and major labels and players are still grappling with what it means to sell music online.

It remains to be seen how much services like Spotify will mitigate piracy, a practice that many of the big guys credit with the decline of the music industry (although recent studies seem to indicate that it has, indeed, had an effect). And, subsequently, it remains to be seen if a decrease in thievery will be enough when it comes to value for musicians.

What do you think? Is Spotify a boon to artists? Or a potential drain on their incomes?

By Brenna Ehrlich