So there has been a bit of a hoo-hah involving the Black Keys refusing to let 'El Camino' feature on Spotify's roster of content, claiming that the service reduces record sales. To the contrary the company have responded by asserting the opposite with Ken Parks, Spotify's head of U.S. operations, telling the LA Times: "Artists can - and do - receive very substantial revenues from Spotify, and as Spotify grows, these revenue streams will naturally continue to grow. Spotify is now the second single largest source of digital music revenue for labels in Europe, and we've driven more than $150 million of revenue to ... artists, publishers and labels since our launch three years ago". Where the truth lies however is purely a speculative notion, three years is a very short time by which to judge the effect the service might have on the longterm downfall of the music industry.
As we all know the paradigm shift from physical to digital media is one that has been hugely damaging to avenues of distribution (anyone remember Ourprice, Virgin etc...); as such entrepreneurial excursions have been innovating with various different approaches to monetizing what has proved to be the hardest market to pin down. With each company utilizing a different business model, attitudes from the artist's and the consumer's end tend to vary wildly. For example Napster in its first iteration was at one extreme of the spectrum by allowing users to share for free; the reaction from the record labels was accordingly brash with an avalanche of lawsuits that munched up the company like a BLT. The opposing end of the scale would be the physical distribution model which with albums costing upwards of 15 quid, which was a time that I don't think any of us would care to go back to.
With the invention of the internet, freedom is the name of the game and each of the separate companies meet a certain point on a figurative scale. For example iTunes is perhaps closest to the physical medium as like a lot of Apple's content it is extremely locked down and monetized more for the benefit of the companies and the artists. But at the same time it gives the consumer the freedom to preview material as well as select individual songs instead of having to buy an entire LP for one song.
So let's divide it politically, as in a sense the whole process is: in which case Spotify falls firmly on the side of the liberal left by putting the power in the hands of the consumer whilst retaining a capitalist framework. Moving to a subscription based model allows the user to feasibly access every song that resides within the service's extensive library. Clearly the power of the consumer is something that many artist's view as something of a cancer on the musical economy, failing to trust in what is essentially a more even business framework built entirely around user input.
Soundcloud and iTunes are diametrically opposed to Spotify leaving the power in the hands of the artist and like any consumer they have the right to shop around which services they would like to use. But the sad fact is that the 'El Camino' will be readily available for free download through various sources that will remain unnamed for sake of suffering the almighty wrath of Warner's crack team of lawyers. Now these websites fall further to the left of Spotify for example, but are very closely related in the way that they operate - from there it is not too hard to deduce that Ken Park's claims are indeed true. Put simply it is much easier for Spotify to monetize the consumer that has fallen into the usage of illegal avenues due to a distinct similarity in ethos and commitment to consumer power.
Whilst the Black Keys have every right to choose where there music lands they have made what by initial impression is an act of disregard towards Spotify as well as the fans who might choose to use that particular service. As such it is not a big leap to assume that a large portion of the users on Spotify looking forward to the release of 'El Camino' may have downloaded the album illegally. Additionally the action harms Spotify as the applications viability is heavy reliant on the catalogue being as extensive as possible - a gap in the track list is an immediate black mark on the extent of value for money.
It remains to be seen whether the differences will be settled as well as which business model will prove the test of time. Thankfully the industry is emerging from what has undeniably been its darkest days with the solutions to the economic downturn in revenue at last becoming tangible.
What is clear is that investment in the artist is the way to becoming truly lucrative, capture the minds of your fans and they will return the favor ten-fold, snapping up any opportunity to buy anything from gig tickets to obscure remixes. Just look at Radiohead and Gorillaz who have embraced the new models only to reap the extensive rewards from all avenues of media. The Black Keys have made their "political" orientation abundantly clear only to perhaps diminish their exposure and alienate a portion of potential fans. Only time will tell whether The Black Keys will allow a more liberal approach to their music, but what do you think? Did they make the right decision? In ten years time will Spotify be around to tell the tale?