Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Jay-Z's No Prophet, Just Old, and No, No Respect...,

theguardian |  After a consortium led by Jay-Z bought Tidal (previously known as WiMP) in January 2015, it had a star-studded launch where many of the biggest pop acts on the planet pledged to give it exclusive material first. That amounted, initially, to a Madonna video that soon appeared on YouTube. After that came Rihanna’s Anti, in January 2016, which ended up being released early by mistake, then 1m copies were given away to appease fans while Tidal blamed Universal Music Group for the error. UMG countered by saying it was actually Tidal’s fault. The album eventually ended up on other streaming services. 

The release of Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo did no better. Despite West’s assurances that it would never be on Apple, a matter of a few weeks after its Tidal debut it was available on … Apple. And Spotify. And everywhere else. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one exclusive may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two or more looks like carelessness. 

That said, BeyoncĂ©’s Lemonade remains a streaming exclusive on Tidal over a year after its release. But the knock-on effect was to send fans to pirate sites as well as CD retailers and iTunes to spend their money there rather than taking the carrot and joining Tidal. The fact that Lemonade, according to IFPI numbers, sold 2.5m copies globally last year to become the biggest album in the world would suggest that it was downloads and CDs that accounted for the bulk of that. The “album equivalent streams” of Lemonade on Tidal will have barely touched the sides here. 

Universal, smarting from the Frank Ocean debacle last August – in which Apple Music got an exclusive for the contract-fulfilling album Endless and then, the next day, Ocean put out Blonde himself – reportedly imposed an embargo on exclusives. Warner Music Group and most indie labels were always against them. That leaves Sony, which has hinted exclusives will be considered on a case-by-case basis, the unspoken subtext being they have fallen in line with all the other labels. 

There will be the occasional outlier, such as the totally autonomous Chance the Rapper’s two-week exclusive with Apple Music for his album Coloring Book in May 2016, for which he claims he was paid $500,000; but everyone else is increasingly of the belief that exclusives dangerously impede the reach of an album and, as such, only annoy fans at a time where loyalty can no longer be presumed and has to be earned again with every new release.

Jay-Z has an allegiance to his own service and one of its biggest investors, hence this Tidal–Sprint deal; but it feels like a message beamed in from a different place and a different time. In an age of digital ubiquity, exclusives are an anachronistic bet on a roulette wheel where the only pockets are marked as either “invisibility” or “irrelevance”.


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