This weekend Big Sean and Jhene Aiko announced that they'd be putting out a surprise collab album, Twenty88, and sure enough, an email from Def Jam with some additional details landed in our inbox shortly after.
The big news was that the album would be a TIDAL exclusive for 72 hours, but frankly, we didn't think that much of it, not enough to write an entire article about it. So instead we just tweeted the info out as a public service announcement of sorts and what we got back says a lot about the current state of the music industry and even more about its potential future.
And that's just a small sample—I even removed the more, shall we say "explicit" replies regarding TIDAL sucking chosen parts of someone's anatomy for 72 hours.
I'd like to believe I have my finger at least close to the pulse of the people, I knew people were frustrated by streaming exclusives, but honestly I didn't anticipate this level of anger. This isn't a TIDAL exclusive forever, just 72 hours, are people really that angry about having to wait 72 hours? Yes, apparently they are, and I think I understand why.
For at least the last decade now music's been steamrolling towards instant universal access. Even a year or two ago it was inconceivable that a new music video wouldn't be on YouTube when a new album dropped you'd go on iTunes and be 99% confident you'd be able to buy it immediately. It was a great system for consumers but terrible for major labels (and by extension many artists). And so the story of the music industry in the last year and some change has really been the story of labels attempting to wrestle some of that control back by erecting some barriers of exclusivity into what was once an open landscape, and the people are not pleased.
Who wants to wake up one day with a brick wall where there used to be a door? Who wants to deal with the headache of paying for a subscription to five different music streaming services? You can listen to Kanye's "Famous" on Spotify, but not The Life of Pablo, except Spotify's version of "Famous" is the newer one, not the older one that was on TIDAL, unless Kanye updates "Famous" again, in which case will Apple Music update their version as well? Or do you need to go to TIDAL for that? It's no wonder so many people just say fuck it and download on Pirate Bay.
The music industry is trying to establish something like how TV works online now, where some shows are only on Netflix, others on HBO, others on Hulu and people pay for a subscription to several without much complaining, but that's reverse engineering. TV and movies were never as easily and widely available as music, there's no real precedent for being able to watch any show, anywhere, anytime, instantly. There have been, and continue to be, some very serious downsides to the next stage of the digital music revolution, but Pandora's Box has opened and there's no going back.
People clearly hate the idea of exclusive streaming deals, even for a limited time, and the music industry is not going to fix anything by creating a product people hate to use and then blaming their customers for not using it.
I don't know what the answer is, I don't know how to give consumers universal music access in a way that fairly compensates artists, but I do know the answer doesn't lie in exclusivity.