Are Streaming Exclusives Ruining Music?

Credit: Kristian Bjornard, Flickr

Credit: Kristian Bjornard, Flickr

For an industry existing in the internet age, finding a way to create excitement about a release requires a lot of effort. In addition to surprise releases, as in the case of Beyoncé, automatic uploads (U2), or special countdowns and cryptic messages (Rihanna), artists and their management teams are constantly developing ways to create interest, drive sells and get people talking about their latest projects.


One such tool that creates conversation and interest is exclusives. It is becoming popular for musicians to partner with streaming services to offer exclusive rights to songs, albums and videos for a certain or indefinite time. Because of the artist’s popularity and existing fan base, such partnerships have created growth opportunities for competing companies, and have led to increased subscriptions and further adoption of the platform itself.


When Kanye West offered Tidal exclusive streaming rights to his ninth album, Life of Pablo, the flailing company became the most downloaded app in the App Store, and West became the first artist to notch a number 1 album from mostly streaming. Similarly, Drake’s exclusive deal with Apple was highly beneficial for the company and the man himself, as his record, Views, became the most streamed album in a single week, with almost 250 million plays.


Still, not everyone was as lucky. Budding R&B star Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated album was made available to Apple in the same way, but was downloaded illegally an incredible 750,000 times in its first week, according to NME. The high level of piracy prompted Ocean’s record label, Universal Music Group, to place a ban on streaming exclusives for its artists, going forward, citing that exclusives were both anti-competitive and harmful to the consumer.


DJ Scott Keeney shared a similar sentiment in a blog for Music Business Worldwide. He explained that the logic for exclusives doesn’t translate to consumers, considering that sites tend to have most of the same content outside of the promoted album, unlike Netflix and Hulu, which tend to have different programing for television and movies. So, forcing consumers to pay for a subscription to a site or app for an exclusive album misses the point for why fans enjoy streaming to begin with, which I’ve shared in a previous blog.


That said, there are two ways to look at this issue. Quite obviously, exclusives have worked in the favor of some artists and, at least temporarily, have helped Apple and Tidal gain some ground in a Spotify-dominated landscape. In the end, though, forcing consumers to do anything probably isn’t a good idea.