Forget Kanye vs. Wiz Khalifa, forget Young Thug vs. Future. Those are scuffles played out by petty rappers on Twitter. But this? This is two corporations trading blows over millions of dollars in revenue.
Originally, Rihanna's ANTI album was supposed to stream exclusively on TIDAL, but Jay Z's floundering streaming service somehow managed to faceplant its own exclusive by leaking the album ahead of schedule, accidentally displaying the tracklist and streaming the album for just a few minutes—unfortunately for them, just a few minutes is more than enough time for the internet to grab and spread the project like wildfire.
When I saw the leak pop up I figured someone over at TIDAL would no longer be employed after the weekend, but the company quickly kicked into save-our-jobs mode by first blaming the leak on an unfortunate "system error" and then quickly clarifying that the error was, “Referring to a system error caused by Universal Music Group (UMG). The error was not something TIDAL caused.”
Shots fired, and today Universal fired back in a statement to Billboard. An anonymous exec over at the label told the magazine, "This whole thing is absurd. We would have taken responsibility if it were our error. Instead of having their flack flail around trying to revise their own media spin, maybe they should just focus on serving Rihanna—that's what we're focused on."
Hilarious reactions GIFs aside, this is a big deal. The way major labels are structured and have been structured for quite some time is extraordinarily top heavy. They all rely on a small group of elite artists to bring in the majority of their revenue for each year - a single Drake, Rihanna or Beyonce album could end up making more money than 90% of the other acts on the label combined. And so those labels are fiercely protective over their superstar releases.
Let me assure you, DJBooth never posts album leak links, as in NEVER, but whenever big album leaks, we get emails from UMG effectively threatening to sue the bejeezus out of us if a download link pops up on the site.* But when a not-so-big album leaks? We don't hear a peep. Leak a Drake album and prepare to feel the wrath of God. Leak a Tyga album and they can't even work up the energy to hit send on an email.
Rihanna is only the most downloaded artist of all-time, so yes, this album rollout was a very big deal, and although the leak doesn't seem to have hurt the album's performance much, thanks in large part to a Samsung deal and the RIAA's Platinum pandering, this reveals yet another large and growing crack in the music industry as it attempts to transition into the streaming age. Leaks were common before, but adding in more players, like TIDAL only increases the odds of something going wrong.
Let's just hope Apple Music doesn't accidentally leak Views or we're going to see some heads really roll.
* It's more complicated that that, I'm realizing those "leak" emails from labels deserves their own article, but for our purposes here this simplified version will suffice.