But some record labels have a more ambivalent relationship with the streaming services. The Chicago-based Drag City, for instance, whose roster includes Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, and Silver Jews, doesn't make its music available on Spotify. And until fairly recently, Barsuk Records, an independent label based in Seattle, declined to deliver its catalog to streaming services. Yet as Spotify expanded, the label decided to experiment with it. Josh Rosenfeld, who co-founded the label in 1998 and still manages it today, explained that Spotify doesn't generate enough revenue to be the foundation of Barsuk's business model, but there could be a path of growth.
"If the subscription models can grow faster than they contribute to erosion of the current foundational revenues for our business, then we have the potential for a sustainable business model," Rosenfeld wrote in an email to The Atlantic Wire. Still, Barsuk doesn't require its artists, who include Menomena, Ra Ra Riot, and Yellow Ostrich, to have their music on Spotify.
But most are there anyway.
"The smaller the profile of an artist, the more likely that artist is to feel that it's essential to have his or her music available in all places where listeners are listening," Rosenfeld explained. "The larger the profile of the artist, the more likely he or she is to be inclined to believe that listeners will go out of their way to acquire the artist's music. Similarly, the more financially secure the artist is, the less concerned the artist is with making sure to cover all bases when it comes to collecting royalties." Plus, the larger the artist is, "the more likely the artist is to find appeal in 'making a statement' to draw attention to his or her own instances of iconoclasm at the risk of income loss."
Enter Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich and Pearl Jam, self-declared saviors of the Common Band.
Exposure, in other words, has become even more viable currency in the Spotify era than it's always been. The system is such that bands work desperately for nothing in hopes of exposure that will afford them the privilege of working desperately for little more than nothing. Maybe eventually they'll make it huge and make—well, less than you probably expect. Nitsuh Abebe tracked this phenomenon in his aforementioned Grizzly Bear profile:
For much of the late-twentieth century, you might have assumed that musicians with a top-twenty sales week and a Radio City show—say, the U2 tour in 1984, after The Unforgettable Fire—made at least as much as their dentists. Those days are long and irretrievably gone, but some of the mental habits linger. “People probably have an inflated idea of what we make,” says [Grizzly Bear member Ed] Droste. “Bands appear so much bigger than they really are now, because no one’s buying records."
Spotify, of course, appears to offer the exposure it takes to be the next Grizzly Bear. In some ways, it's the musical iteration of recent controversies in online journalism and the internship world, where writers and interns are compelled to work for free for "exposure," connections, and experience. The difference is that established editors and companies aren't exactly sounding the alarm—they're the ones benefiting from the system.