This week the Black Keys released a new album, titled ‘Turn Blue.’ Now, I lost interest in the band after their last outing, ‘El Camino’ because I felt they removed themselves too far from their roots, and the music was a bit too pop-like to me. However, with ‘Turn Blue’, I decided I’d give the band another shot, because after recently hearing a couple tracks from the album, it felt a bit more bluesy and right up my alley. When I went to go listen to the band on Spotify, though, ‘Turn Blue’ was excluded from their discography, which isn’t too much of a surprise, considering the band also excluded ‘El Camino’ from the catalog. That’s when I began to think on the whole musical artist vs. Spotify argument, and it really holds no water.
The Black Keys aren’t the only holdouts on Spotify; Thom Yorke hates the hell out of them, and many classic rock bands like the Eagles and Pink Floyd were initially very reluctant to hand their catalogs over to the service. Essentially, the artist argument is that the service doesn’t offer a decent payout to the artist, and the payout itself tends to feed the label more than the artist. That’s entirely true, artists make much less money when their stuff is being played on Spotify vs being bought in full.
So here is why the argument is so incredibly blind and absurd: Spotify isn’t the same thing as buying an album, which is how these artists are treating it. People who go and buy your album in one format or another have already established themselves as fans of you, or know they will be. It doesn’t bother that consumer to shell out $10 for a dozen new tunes from you, because they’ve already established they dig you. This is the same person that’s going to your concerts, watching your content online, and purchasing your overpriced merchandise, which in all honesty, is where you are really making your money anyway! Someone who listens to your album on Spotify may not be a fan at all, or a hesitate listener, much like myself with the new Black Keys album. Without Spotify, the artist would be getting nothing at all from this listener, unless they just happen to want to spend $10 on an album from a band they may not be familiar with. Spotify caters to eclectic listeners, people who surf around trying to BECOME fans of bands. It’s a discovery tool, not an album selling tool. Someone may just listen to half a dozen of your tracks scattered throughout your discography on Spotify, and if they don’t like you, it wasn’t a commitment on their part, or yours. However, if they do like you, then they’ll join the ranks of the opposite kind of consumer of your music, the kind going to see you and buying your $50 t-shirt.
As a hesitate fan of The Black Keys, I don’t have an incentive to go spend $10 on their new album. However, if I had been able to add it to my Spotify que, I may just have liked it enough to go buy it on vinyl, or better yet, I may have been inclined to snap up a ticket for their North American tour this summer.
It’s incredibly arrogant to treat Spotify like an oppressive force hellbent on benefitting one-percenter, snobby label CEO’s. It’s a service that allows people to discover you, and if they like you, that payout will come. Hell, Spotify even provides them pictures, biographical info, merchandise, and tour dates for your shows, so the opportunities for them to throw money at you are endless.
Spotify claims to payout between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream, the range likely due to different arrangements with different content holders. So let’s just cut the difference, and say the artist is making like $0.0072. The Black Keys did post their single ‘Fever’ on the service, which I assume may be a marketing strategy that the label may have insisted on. ‘Fever’ has garnered 3,470,128 hits and counting on Spotify. That means the payout for having the song on the service for a couple weeks is about $24,984, give or take a couple thousand. That’s twenty four grand the Black Keys wouldn’t have seen at all, even if they only see a fraction of it, as they complain about.
The Black Keys, Thom Yorke, and the rest of the Spotify naysayers can cry themselves to sleep in their endless piles of money. It’s unfortunate they won’t just throw in the towel, because then they’d have even more money to cry over. But they’ll try to say it’s a moral issue, and they’re standing up for some sort of code of ethics, which really makes zero sense, because at the end of the day, Spotify and services like it embody the whole purpose of making music: to get it to as many people as possible, to allow it to enter people’s lives, and to make a difference by being heard. Claiming you have some moral or ethical dilemma with being paid less for your stardom is an absurd argument.