The beef between Ohio-based rock stars The Black Keys and Spotify just got personal. Following news that The Black Keys would not stream their new album, El Camino, on the increasingly popular music streaming service, the band has taken some direct hits at one of Spotify’s most high-profile executives, Sean Parker.
When asked during an interview with WGRD radio in Grand Rapids, MI, whether the duo believed Parker, who founded Napster, when he said that Spotify could generate more revenue than iTunes for artists, drummer Patrick Carney told it like they see it.
“No,” said Carney. “Because, [Parker's] an asshole. The guy has $2.5 billion he made from figuring out ways to steal royalties from artists, and that’s the bottom line. You can’t really trust anybody like that.”
“The idea of the streaming service — like Netflix for music — I’m totally not against that, it’s just that we won’t put all of our music on it until there are enough subscribers for it to make sense,” Carney continued. ”There are only about a million-and-a-half Spotify subscribers, I think, but if there were like, 200 million…”
As interviewer Dave Kim explains, a song on Spotify must be played an estimated 66 times to equal the same amount of royalties received from a 99-cent iTunes download — about 12 cents.
“So that’s what they’re doing,” responded Carney. “Sixty six plays will get a 12-cent royalty. But then that goes to the label, and part of that is paid out to the artist from that. You can’t make money on that.
“Trust me, [Keys frontman] Dan [Auerbach] and I like to make money. If it was fair to the artist we would be involved in it. I honestly don’t want to see Sean Parker succeed in anything, really. I imagine that if Spotify does become something that people are willing to pay for, then I’m sure iTunes will just create their own service, and do it themselves. And they’re actually more fair to artists.”
The number 66 might actually be somewhat low. According to some music industry estimates, the number of times a song must be played on Spotify for the royalties to equal one 99-cent download is between 80 and 200. Regardless, any number assigned is just an estimate, since it changes depending on the specific deal each music label struck with Spotify. Because of The Black Keys’ massive popularity, it’s likely that they would get about as good a deal as anyone.
Another thing to take into consideration is the conversion rate, from streaming to download. If a person hears a song on Spotify, it increases the possibility that they will download the track, or even the whole album. In those cases, the argument that Spotify just isn’t worth it financially is rendered moot. Also, access to music on Spotify has also been shown to reduce piracy — a practice that gives neither the record label nor the artist anything whatsoever — according to the RIAA, at least.
Obviously, the math is extremely complicated — especially because those reporting the numbers (i.e. the RIAA) are not always honest about the facts and figures surrounding their business. Moreover, the digital music age is still in its infancy. Parker’s Napster was the first iteration, iTunes the second, Spotify and similar services the third. Whether the music labels like it or not, how music fans get their tracks will continue to evolve along with the rest of consumer technology. If The Black Keys want to sit on their front porch and scream at kids, that’s their choice. But they might one day find themselves old and alone.