Nashville-via-Akron rockers The Black Keys released their seventh full-length album El Camino (Nonesuch) last week to some seriously high expectations. Recorded in Nashville with producer Danger Mouse, El Camino follows the Keys’ 2010 breakthrough Brothers (featuring the breakout hit “Tighten Up”). It retains their typical soulful grit and mixes it in a stew of peppy raveups, glam rock stompers, and instantly familiar hooks.
But if you’re hoping to hear it on Spotify, Rdio, or Rhapsody, sorry, not happening. Digital Music News reported last week that El Camino wasn’t available on any of the streaming services, a move that echoes the release of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto earlier in 2011. The album is however readily available for purchase through digital retailers such as iTunes and Amazon. There’s no official word if El Camino will be made available at a later date.
There’s a reasonable argument to be made for both sides, and the question seems to be how much sales will the band have generated/missed because of the strategy?
It’s hard to believe a band wouldn’t want expose its music as widely possible through all available (and legal) services. People naturally want to check stuff out before they plunk down $10.99 at iTunes, so they have some idea what they’re getting. In fairness, you can listen to a handful of the Keys’ new tracks on their website in exchange for your email address.
But on the other hand, it might be an attempt to position the album as a “classic” artistic statement that must be heard in its entirety rather than as isolated tracks. And as revenue goes, the common criticism of streaming services is that it takes hundreds of plays to equal the revenue generated by a purchased album download.
While Spotify and the like aren’t really an answer for declining sales, they can still be used as effective marketing tools to generate interest in an artist. Hopefully, that also helps bring some people out to the shows, where they buy some merchandise, join the mailing list, and start to build some brand loyalty.
The Black Keys were highly visible in the days leading up to El Camino’s release, including performance slots on Saturday Night Live and The Colbert Report. El Camino currently sits at No. 2 on the iTunes album downloads chart, and first week sales totals will be in this Wednesday (12/14/11).