Yesterday reports surfaced about Universal Music Group possibly banning streaming exclusives entirely, but a new report by BuzzFeed’s Reggie Ugwu has revealed a more nuanced approach. An anonymous source close to the label confirmed Universal Music Group’s stance against giving extended exclusives to individual streaming platforms, but also cautioned that it doesn’t amount to a “blanket ban” against such agreements entirely.
Our view is that giving exclusives to individual streaming platforms for long periods of time is not good for the artist, it’s not good for the fans, and it limits the commercial opportunity for everybody involved.
Indeed, Universal Music Group may be forced to make some difficult decisions in the future, should artists who are not entirely under its purview — such as Taylor Swift, who’s signed to independent partner Big Machine Records, and Cash Money’s Drake — continue to make agreements with the likes of Apple Music and cut UMG out almost entirely. And if artists like Frank Ocean use streaming services to fulfill their record contracts and release music on their own, labels will be even further removed from the process.
Record labels like UMG can say they’re trying to level the playing field by giving streaming services “an ecosystem where all of these platforms are competing for audience and they’re competing for artist content,” but with language like “it [streaming service exclusivity] limits the commercial opportunity for everybody involved” it sounds more like the labels want more control — especially with statements about “leaving a lot of money on the table.”
Looking at the Billboard 200 charts, however, it’s hard to argue against the strategy so far. Rihanna’s ANTI and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo both were initially Tidal exclusives, with Pablo debuting at No. 1 during its first week on the Billboard 200. The same goes for Beyoncé’s No. 1 debut with the Tidal exclusive Lemonade and Drake’s Apple Music exclusive, Views. And finally, the album which has sparked all the recent debate, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, is headed for a No. 1 as well.
So why is the dissatisfaction with exclusives coming to light right now? Maybe it’s because UMG had nothing to do with Blonde‘s success and the label heads are fearful of the album’s blueprint for future releases.