James Blake’s Vault Project Is Noble, But Flawed

There is no silver bullet for the problems facing artists…

The streaming era has many positive aspects – it’s better than the pirate era, for one, and it’s helping democratise music in a way previous generations could not have envisaged. If there’s one global truism, though, it’s this: the way income streams are divided up is unequal, and doesn’t reward musicians for their labour.

It’s a topic James Blake has been discussing openly of late, going viral for a series of tweets on the broken landscape currently facing musicians. With royalties from audio platforms sitting at around $0.003 and $0.005 per stream, he argues, it’s little wonder that some of your favourite artists are struggling to make a living. 

In one note on Twitter / x he seemed to get to the crux of the issue:

Something I keep seeing is ‘if you’re lucky enough to go viral, just use the exposure to generate income some other way’. Musicians should be able to generate income via their music. Do you want good music or do you want what you paid for?

Eager to pursue a solution, James Blake has now confirmed a brand new partnership with Vault. The company – whose motto is “What if making music was enough?” – have developed a space for musicians to share their music exclusively with fans, alongside a forum-style arrangement for discussion. The monthly subscription kicks off at $5 with James Blake set to share a stream of unreleased material.

“It’s music direct from me to you, where no one can gatekeep what I release to you, or delay my releases,” he says in a launch video. “And it’s got a chat section for everyone to discuss the music.”

CLASH logged in to the service this morning, and it seems functional, and relatively easy to use. There’s a lack of further information and input right now, with more artists – Jme has hinted at his involvement – set to log on.

As yet, there’s no information on what cut Vault themselves would take. Equally, it’s hard to see how a new or emerging artist could gain a big profile on the platform, without additional work on social media platforms elsewhere.

There’s a sense, too, that we’ve seen this before. Does Vault truly differ from Patreon, for example, which artists are already using to their advantage? Onlyfans may well be a platform utilised by sex workers, but it’s essential idea – direct connection with creators and paying for the service – has been echoed across multiple other platforms.

Indeed, as some have pointed out Bandcamp have tried to evolve their service to incorporate this. A platform which has spawned DIY communities and served to platform the left-field, last year’s buy-out only served to underline the fact that digital monopoly is not a good thing for creators. More outlets and more platforms is an inherently good thing for the eco-system.

Ultimately, the problems faced by musicians can’t be solved in one fell swoop. Generations of under-investment from labels and poor to non-existent royalty systems have led to a completely broken eco-system. Equally, as some have already observed, the endemic inequalities are fostered right from the very top – Warner Music accrued a record 11% rise in profits last year, but reacted by confirming 600 job losses in the opening weeks of 2024.

James Blake’s Vault endeavour doesn’t feel like a fix-all solution, but nor should it be. It’s the furthering of a conversation that needs to be had, while also testing out solutions in real-time. Whether it succeeds or fails, he should be applauded for placing himself in the trenches.

Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Michael Tyrone Delaney 

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.