By Kendra Sells
I recently finished my trial of Apple Music and in my three months of its service, the only exclusive release I got to experience was that of Frank Ocean’s music video Endless. For once, I felt like an affluent music streamer, one who could race to post song meanings onto Genuis.com if I wanted to. Ocean’s release of Blonde contributed to the ongoing trend of subscription-exclusive releases through Tidal and Apple Music alongside Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Rihanna’s Anti, Beyonce’s Lemonade, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Drake’s Views. The pressure these artists have created to push subscribers to these platforms has sparked conversation amongst music lovers questioning the ethics of such releases.
I took to Twitter to poll my peers, asking them if they would purchase Apple Music or Tidal if either platform were to exclusively release music from their favorite artist:
Part of me wants to say these findings are due to my surrounding broke college kid demographic, but contrary to these results, Apple Music and Tidal both have seen remarkable growth in the last year – considering Apple Music’s not-so user friendly interface and Tidal’s limited catalogue. The collaboration with artists to release music exclusively through their platforms has tremendously boosted their number of subscribers. Apple Music, as of May, reached 10 million subscribers, and Tidal has nearly quadrupled its number of subscribers in the last year.
We listeners are not entitled to free art
The hard truth is- money pays the bills and music is a source of income for recording artists. There is an argument circling around that since certain artists are already rich- like really, really rich- they shouldn’t be “greedy” and try to squeeze money out of their fans. This suggests that these artists should spend their time and their money to entertain people for free, or little to nothing. Rich or poor, the notion of artistic integrity is not fair to musicians who are working hard to make a living off of their craft. Although Spotify has gained a special place in my heart over the years, they don’t pay their artists much at only .48 cents per stream. That’s almost half a penny per play, whereas Tidal pays a full 24 cents per stream, and Apple Music 60 cents. It only seems logical for artists to stream their music from the higher paying services.
So why the exclusive releases?
Maybe a better question is: are the releases really even exclusive? Perhaps for live-tweeting fanatics and “microwave journalist” who have a review out before the album has lived to see 2 hours, but for everyone else it’s a game of patience and accepting the fact you’ll be out of the loop until the album leaks on Youtube. “Exclusive” releases drive eager fans to the higher paying platforms thus, essentially, generating more revenue for the artists.
Album release methods have become more and more creative. The game has changed, CD sales remain on the decline as streaming services continue to grow in subscribers, but change continues as artists brainstorm to make their releases the most notable. Childish Gambino hosted a 3-day music festival early September for his album release Pharos, Frank Ocean waited until the entire world begged him for a drop, and Beyonce’s music video album has sparked inspiration for many other musicians. Exclusive releases are merely marketing strategies for both streaming platforms and artists and it excites me to see what new tactics they come up with.