The head of Universal Music Group (UMG) could be about to fundamentally shift the way music is distributed online, by getting rid of music exclusives.
CEO Lucian Grange, according to the Guardian, has emailed all at Universal to say the trend of offering up a new album exclusively to one of the big streaming services – usually Apple Music, although it’s also happening with Spotify and Tidal – is to end.
Given that UMG has around 80 music labels under its umbrella, including artists such as Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean – whose latest album Blonde was first made available through Apple Music and iTunes – this could well set a precedent for the rest of the music industry.
Exclusives are big business for both artists and streaming services, but they aren’t much fun for those who really matter: the music listener.
We’ve seen them time and time again – Beyonce’s Lemonade heading to Tidal first, Taylor Swift becoming an Apple Music champion overnight after having a pop at the service – and now there’s Frank Ocean.
Having his album Blonde on Apple Music exclusively is great if you’re a subscriber, but plain annoying if you’ve decided to opt for Spotify, Tidal or, crazy as it sounds, to buy CDs. The album will inevitably come to these other services, but you have to play the waiting game.
For the artist, exclusivity means the service they offer the exclusive to will no doubt shout about having the album first. Ocean choosing Apple Music meant that playlists were dedicated to him, and he got constant play on Beats Music, Apple’s dedicated radio station. Even if an Apple Music listener doesn’t know who Frank Ocean is, they will by the end of this promotional run.
For Apple, and other services that hanker after music exclusives, having exclusivity may mean that those who don’t use Apple Music will give it a try because of that one album, and stay because of what else is on offer.
So far so good. But those consumers locked into Spotify or elsewhere will be left wanting, and that’s never a good thing.
It’s an interesting time for streaming services at the moment. Apple is showing massive growth in subscriber count – in April it was up to 13 million. Expect an even bigger number to be announced in September, if/when the iPhone 7 is launched.
Spotify has around 30 million paying subscribers and around 100 million users. It’s also currently in negotiation with the three big record companies for a new streaming deal, as it’s out of contract.
The issue it has, according to Cult of Mac, is that Apple’s share of revenue with labels is apparently different to – i.e, bigger than – Spotify’s, so it will have to work hard to keep the deal it currently has.
Part of this deal may also be the negotiation of more exclusives for Spotify, but with UMG seemingly out of this game now, that will mean these exclusives would only come from Warner Music Group or Sony.
Let’s hope, before these deals happen, that Grange’s apparent insistence that exclusives are to be stopped reverberates across the entire music industry.
Otherwise, music streaming will become even more fractured and annoying for the end user, who ultimately just wants to press play and listen to a good song – not worry that their favorite band isn’t available because millionaires can’t agree and sign on the dotted line.
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