I’m rarely the first to get into the “new thing.” I didn’t have an iPhone until it had been out for 7 years; I didn’t even have a cell phone until high school. The most modern video game console I own is a PlayStation 2. But I was ahead of the game when it came to music streaming (not to brag but…). I was on Spotify back when it showed everything you listened to on Facebook, which became quite embarrassing whenever I happened upon the discography of Katy Perry. And because of this, I’ve developed a strong brand loyalty for Spotify. I almost exclusively listen to music there.
This is the cause of my resentment towards today’s music superstars. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the “new thing” when it comes to music is surprise album releases that are exclusive, at least initially, to one of the Big 3 streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal). Adele, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Chance The Rapper, Drake, and now Frank Ocean have all done this with their latest albums. And these are not just some random artists trying to set themselves apart; these are the biggest musicians in the world.
Never before have there been restrictions placed on who can listen to the most sought-after new music releases. And it sucks. As someone who uses Spotify for just about everything (and pays for it), I’ve been deprived of some releases that I’ve really looked forward to, specifically Kanye’s The Life of Pablo and Frank’s new Blonde. And I’m not the only one who has been forced to put down cash for a couple months of Tidal just to hear one stupid album. These artists who make their album an exclusive come off as highly selfish, and abuse the trust of their fans, the very people responsible for them having a career in music in the first place.
Think I’m being too harsh? Well, let’s look at the motives these artists have used to go exclusive. Some, like Swift, are misguided enough to believe that they are taking a stand against poor royalty rates by services like Spotify. She took all of her music off Spotify and put it exclusively on iTunes to protest these streaming rates. But then, Apple came out with their own streaming service (Apple Music). So Taylor didn’t let her music be streamed there, right? Wrong. Remember those evil royalty rates Spotify used? They are the same exact rates as those used by Apple Music; 70% of revenue is distributed to artists and publishers, 30% kept in the company to pay things like “bills”. Taylor is hypocritically keeping up her façade of a stance against poor royalties while she’s making money off a service that gives those very same royalty rates. And all the same, she is punishing her Spotify-user fans for…well, for what? Buying her concert tickets? Paying for a nearly identical service to her own preference? Clearly, the royalty argument does not hold water, and therefore is just another way for Taylor to play up her “good-girl” image at the expense of her adoring fans.
And if that’s not enough, let’s take a gander at Apple Music’s wicked step-cousin, Tidal. Tidal started as Jay Z’s wet dream, a near-futile attempt to rack on a couple more stacks to his bank account. Higher costs for a barely-noticeable sound quality boost turned most streamers off instantly, and the service looked dead in the water. And that’s fine; some businesses fail. But then, Tidal got a massive boost from a number of high profile exclusive albums. These all came from people like Kanye West, Rihanna, and Beyonce, who only made their works Tidal-exclusive to help out their buddy (or hubby as the case may be) with his new business venture. So yes, Kanye fans, the entire reason you couldn’t listen to TLOP for months anywhere but Tidal was because West decided to help his multi-millionaire friend get some dough for a new yacht. Not to mention most of these artists have their own ownership stakes in J-Hova’s service. Call it what you want. I call it self-serving and unfair.
These streaming exclusives have to end. Maybe it’s too much of a conflict of interest for musicians to own services that provide music. Or maybe they just need to think of their fans for once. Again, these are the very people that allow these superstars to have a career doing what they love. It’s simply too unfair to force fans to pay for multiple services that do the same thing just to get access to a handful of albums. Nowhere else in society is this accepted; if you wanted to paint your house, no one would expect you to hire 3 different painters just to get one coat of paint. Why should the music world demand the same?
Maybe this is just another example of me getting into the “new thing” a little too late. But I think the “new thing” is just wrong this time.