Why art exclusivity hurts consumers and artists
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
Recently, Beyoncé dropped an unannounced album, Lemonade. Lemonade was accessible exclusively on Tidal, a digital music streaming service that happens to be owned by Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, but has been released for sale outside of the service. Tidal is a newer entry to the music-streaming market, attempting to compete with larger services like Spotify and Apple Music with its exclusive content.
In February, the new Kanye West album The Life of Pablo was also released as a Tidal exclusive. Kanye is one of the biggest artists in the world. He’s sold over 21-million albums and much more in digital downloads/streaming royalties. This meant that there was a lot of frustration when his album dropped. Many consumers simply did not want to sign up (and pay) for a new service when they already using other reliable music distributors.
Music accessibility has changed in the last few years. Few people pay for individual albums and even fewer pay for physical copies. It’s understandable that certain artists may choose to forgo the CD distribution path altogether and go digital only. But releasing an album on one platform does not allow for easy access. If you want people to hear your music—whether you’re a major A-list artist or an independent local musician—it’s important to make it easy to listen to and pay for. A major side effect of Beyoncé and Kanye’s exclusivity was illegal downloading, another frequently used method of listening to music in 2016. The Life of Pablo was downloaded over 500,000 times in its first week of release alone. How many of those downloads would’ve been prevented—translating to cash revenue for Kanye, his producers, and the distributor—if the album was simply released on all formats straightaway?
Kanye promoted his album as a Tidal exclusive “forever.” A couple of weeks later, it was made available for streaming on Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play, and as a straight-up purchase on his website. This was no doubt due to Kanye’s realization of the millions of dollars he was losing out on. As for Lemonade, it was made available on iTunes only a few days after its release, and will be released on CD May 6.
A-listers can ultimately choose to release their art however they want. Most of them have millions of dollars already, and probably don’t care personally about potential streams/downloads lost (especially if they have a vested interest like Kanye West and Beyoncé, who are both partial owners of Tidal). It’s perhaps the record companies who get hurt more than the artists themselves. But music, like most 2016 media, demands to be accessed by consumers as conveniently and cheaply as possible. People want to hear your music and many people are even willing to pay money to do so. Let them do so immediately through traditional means or else they’ll simply grab it as a torrent for free.