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The Black Keys explain how to cheat your way to a number one album

In an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience in 2019, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys gave some eye-opening insight into the ever-changing nature of the music industry.

Over the past 20 years, the way we consume music has changed dramatically. With the advent of mp3 and music streaming platforms, physical copies looked like they were heading the way of the dodo. 

However, a strange resurgence of vinyl record sales has defied expectations over the past decade, and the burgeoning market for the retro format doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. In 2021, the vinyl comeback observed another milestone year as vinyl sales outsold CDs for the first time in 30 years. 

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So, why is this happening? Firstly, many will argue that the sound quality is better when spinning a record on the turntable. But this isn’t the main driver behind the unexpected surge in record sales. Rather, it’s to do with the impersonal nature of music streaming. Musical civilians may be satisfied with algorithms and miscellaneous playlists, but most true music lovers want a collection, something they can look at, hold, admire and identify with. 

With this in mind, during, The Black Keys’ interview with Joe Rogan, Carney pointed out that one of the issues with the music industry in the modern-day is the value placed upon “most-streamed” songs. 

“I think that it’s detrimental to the music industry to pay too close attention to certain metrics. The whole system right now with these major [labels] is like signing shit that has the most social media interaction, the most streaming and I was like you know what? When I was nine years old, I bought Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ and I listened to that shit like… I’m not joking, like 250 times in a week, like a fucking idiot! I think that’s who’s listening to this shit!” Carney said, referring to some of the highly streamed modern pop sensations. 

He added: “It’s getting a billion streams in a month! It’s fucking nine-year-old morons!”

Carney then outlined how there are two different types of consumers, one of which is having much more of an impact on the industry. “I like to think that our fans have like, you know, they’ve got like 150 albums that they listen to on a sort of rotation at least, and ours may be one of them a month. So it’s a different fucking audience, you know what I mean? You look at Instagram and you see these certain people. I’ve never even heard their music and they have like 10 million followers.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Carney explained that labels are encouraging what is known as “bundling”. “We want to get in front of people and play our songs and have fun,” Carney said. “And when the conversation came to the actual album, it was like, Warner Brothers were interested if we wanted to bundle it, which is when you include your record with a ticket. And a lot of people have been doing it, whether you buy a t-shirt and you get a record. And it’s a digital download link.”

He continued: “And I was like, ‘how does that work?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, you would give five dollars from each ticket back to Warner Brothers and then you would get a record sale’.”

“I was like, ‘That doesn’t make any sense to me and Dan.’ They’re like, ‘Yeah.. well, it’s the only way you’re going to get a number one record. So if you want a number one record, you got to do that.’ I was like, ‘Well… so it’s one-to-one, like we get five bucks back and then we get a royalty and we get a ticket sale?’”

“They’re like, ‘No, you don’t get a royalty and you only get an album sale to count if they click the link. And we have a 50% click-through.’”

“So, in other words, we would pay $10 per sale on Nielsen Soundscan by giving the money back that we’ve sold on tickets to Warner Brothers, to our record label. I was like, ‘Fuck that! Fuck that shit!’”

Carney then demonstrated the lunacy of the process by imagining if he and Auerbach were on their own record label: “Check it out. We’ve sold 250,000 tickets on this tour. So we would give back $1.25 million. Our record advance for this record was less than that. So, if Dan and I were just on our own record label, we could give ourselves five dollars per ticket, and we just take the money from the right hand and give it to the left hand. Give you a link. If you counted it, we get the sale. We keep the money. That’s basically what the fuck was going on.”

Listen to The Black Keys’ full critique of the music industry below.