The 1975 hit No. 1 on Billboard without Spotify

The 1975.
The 1975.

NEW YORK • How essential is Spotify in getting an album to No.1?

That has been one of the most debated topics in the music industry in the last year or so. On the one hand, Adele and Taylor Swift both released blockbuster albums that largely bypassed streaming services.

But what about everybody else? The recent experiences of Coldplay, Rihanna and Dr. Dre suggest that artists who hold back from Spotify pay a price on the charts.

Now comes The 1975. On Monday, the young British pop-rock band opened at No. 1 on the Billboard chart with I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Dirty Hit/Interscope), ousting Adele from the top spot.

The album, which the group withheld from Spotify for its first two weeks - but which was widely available for streaming elsewhere - sold 98,000 copies and had the equivalent of an additional 10,000 sales through streaming and downloads of individual tracks, according to Nielsen.

The album also opened at No. 1 in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The 1975 are not the first to accomplish this. Aside from Adele and Swift, rapper Future opened at No. 1 last month with Evol, which was exclusive to Apple Music and iTunes in its opening week.

These exceptions are still relatively rare, but that may be changing as the market for streaming music grows more competitive and outlets such as Apple Music are hunting more aggressively for exclusive content to set them apart. This market exists for artists as well, who can use their fame to strike special agreements with one service or another.

In the case of The 1975, Apple Music made a deal with the band to broadcast a live concert video from a rooftop in Los Angeles.

Spotify has about 75 million users around the world, including at least 20 million who pay for monthly subscriptions. Apple Music, less than one year old, has at least 11 million paying customers, while Rhapsody has more than three million and Jay Z has said his Tidal service has more than one million.

As these services compete, it may become more common for artists to make special deals to "window" their music - restrict it from one format or another - for limited periods. Unlike Swift, whose decision to remove her music from Spotify took the form of a stance taken on royalty rates, for many artists, picking a streaming service is strictly business. The 1975, for example, have made their latest singles available on Spotify.

When Swift withdrew her music from the service in 2014, the manager of The 1975, Jamie Oborne, noted in an interview with The Guardian that Spotify was an important promotional outlet for artists like his client. Swift's decision, he said then, was "an isolated example".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'The 1975 hit No. 1 on Billboard without Spotify'. Subscribe