Spotify’s CEO Once Called the Black Keys to Explain Why Their Royalties Were So Bad

The Black Keys on Spotify, October 2019
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The Black Keys on Spotify, October 2019
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The Black Keys on Spotify, October 2019

After Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney publicly complained about his royalties, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek gave him a call to explain how streaming really works.

The Black Keys aren’t the only band feeling stiffed by streaming platforms like Spotify. But given the group’s level of popularity and profile, their complaints got a lot more attention.

Back in 2012, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney decided he’d had enough with Spotify’s abysmally-low royalty payouts. He took aim at Sean Parker, a Spotify board member who also happened to be a Napster cofounder. At SXSW, Parker claimed that Spotify would easily earn an artist more money than iTunes, a statement that prompted Carney to attack.

“He’s an asshole,” Carney brusquely responded when asked what he thought of Parker’s assessment.  “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.”

“You can’t make money on [streaming] – trust me – [Black Keys guitarist and vocalist] Dan [Auerbach] and I like to make money. If it was fair to the artist we would be involved in it, but it’s not.”

“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.”

A few things have happened since that interview.

The Black Keys eventually gave in to Spotify and licensed their complete catalog to the platform. Apple also created a streaming music service of its own, Apple Music, which is regarded as far more artist-friendly than Spotify.

What we didn’t know, however, is that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek attempted to intercede after Carney’s comments.

In a recent interview on the Joe Rogan Podcast, Carney described the call with Ek.  Instead of broiling the Spotify CEO, Carney called Ek “a nice guy, very intelligent,” while relaying the matter-of-fact discussion.

“He basically, without explaining it directly, was saying that he’s paying our label to get our music,” Carney said.  “What they do with the money, he can’t control.  At that moment, I realized, ‘oh yeah, there’s some stock being floated to these companies’. Which there was — billions of dollars of stock was sent.”

Suddenly, the bullseye shifted from Spotify to Warner Records, the Black Keys’ record label.

Warner Records, the Black Keys drummer relayed, “gave us like a couple hundred thousand dollars of the billion. They paid it to us in the way the label does: they paid it as an artist royalty and took all these deductions out of it, and it was a made-up number.”

And no the topic of Warner, Carney wasn’t finished — not by a long shot.

“The craziest thing is this: We’ve sold millions of records, we’ve made between the two of us 60-plus albums, and the last time I finished a record that I’m really proud of and sent it to Warner Bros. [Records], they didn’t even fucking respond to the email. When that shit happens, you know what you wanna do? Tell them to fuck themselves. And now we’re in a situation where our contract is done.”

When asked if he needed a major label to succeed, Carney didn’t need much time to ponder. “Fuck no,” Carney said. “It’s so infuriating to have been in this business for 20 years and be treated like dog shit.”

16 Responses

    • Jake

      You meant the label executives and Daniel Ek must do alot of cocaine and dope due to them treating artist like worthless slaves!

  1. Tom Hendricks

    Pennies for play would get all artists, musicians included, click payments without any company in the middle. DMN cover all the news, even the progressive ideas.

    • BAC

      Pennies per play? How many pennies? 3 cents per stream would mean that subscribers would have to pay $90-$100 a month for a subscription. How many people are going to do that?

      Patrick Carney’s original quote is from March 2012, eight months after Spotify had been available in the US. Hardly anybody was using the service in 2012, compared to today.

      Carney was signed to a label as a band, a duo. Back then, they might have gotten 15% of gross streaming revenue, after advances the label made and expenses. Because the Black Keys are a duo, they have to split that, although it will be even less due to management, Carney’s divorce lawyers, etc.

      • Rabbi

        Crackie- it’s a licensing deal 50% royalty, no distribution fee, upfront license split with artist via their label on a pro rated basis . That’s how it should be structured.

      • Phak Yiu

        People used to spend hundreds of dollars month for music. FUck this cheap ass generation of pansy corporate ball licking pansies. Fuck major labels and their hipster A&R. Steamroll them and their pussy chino bearded bitch losers. BYpass them and put them in the poorhouse. Get a job, MBA hipster liar sack.

  2. Boo Boo Bear

    Labels are artificially keeping royalty rates lower because that’s less they have to share with artists from the upfront licensing advances they receive from Spotify. So in addition to artists having to recoup, most labels are negotiating a lower rate for their artists because the math works out better for them that way since they’ve already been paid a lump sum.

  3. Nicky Knight

    Artists (if they’re not contracted to) don’t have to have their music available on these streaming platforms.. They can choose to sell CD’s, Cassettes & Vinyl via mail-order if they so wish.. or set up their own download/streaming platform for their fan at ~$1.99 a month like that other artist did..

  4. Will

    …This is why you don’t open your mouth before you do a full investigation! Calling someone out before you have the proper knowledge is embarrassing! I could probably teach him a thing or two about artist royalties and how to maximize them! I managed an r&b singer for 20 years. His only problem was himself. He always found a way to ruin things for himself, therefore ruining me and what I was doing in the process! Wish I had an artist or group on the level of Black Keys to use my knowledge on. Might actually profit this time!