On Friday (April 7), Jay Z “George Bush’d the button” in the so-called streaming war by pulling most of his back catalog—minus his collaborative albums with R. Kelly and Linkin Park, perhaps because he forgot about them just like everyone else—from Spotify and Apple Music. According to Spotify, the move was done “at the request of the artist.”
You don’t need insider information to figure out the reason behind the request, though: it’s because Spotify and Apple Music are the two biggest competitors of Tidal, the small-fry streaming service co-owned by Jay Z. Politics as usual.
It’s a bizarre decision on Hov’s part, mainly because pulling his catalog from competing streaming sites doesn’t have the same impact now as it would have when Tidal first launched (Jay removedReasonable Doubt from all rival sites in 2015, before pulling The Blueprint series from Apple Music the following year). Also, because later that day, Jay Z appeared on a new Frank Ocean song that premiered on Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio.
From an outsider’s perspective, Jay Z is happy enough to collaborate with his very talented friends, even if it benefits a rival company (interestingly, he wasn’t quite as charitable when it came to Drake and Kanye’s “Pop Style”). But he isn’t willing to give them access to his solo catalog, not that people are really streaming Jay Z’s music like that anyway (numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard).
Figuring out Jay Z’s motives is like guessing which of his albums will disappear next. But what his latest decision does make clear is the importance of owning music, not just streaming it.
Whether you subscribe to Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal—or even all three—streaming is essentially like renting music. You pay a small fee each month to enjoy access to an extensive (yet not fully comprehensive) library of music, but you don’t technically own the music. If Spotify and co. are the landlords, that makes you the tenant. But as Jay Z’s latest stunt proves, you aren’t always guaranteed your tenant rights. In other words, don’t be surprised if your favorite album(s) disappears without warning.
Owning music, whether on CD, vinyl or iTunes, on the other hand, is as good as owning property (without the resale value, of course). It’s yours for life, not for as long as streaming politics allows, and you can enjoy the music without worrying about it whether it’ll disappear tomorrow. It’s home, not just a place you’re living in. Open up Spotify or Apple Music and you’ll see dozens of albums and playlists curated for you; open iTunes and you’ll see a library built by you. Hitting shuffle on your old iPod is like reliving your own music history—history that can’t be rewritten.
Competition is important for any industry to thrive, but when it comes to streaming, the rivalry between Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal looks more like a war of attrition: Jay Z keeping his catalog for himself, Apple Music putting music videos behind paywalls (see: Travis Scott's “goosebumps”) and Spotify, for the first time in their history, readying their own two-week exclusive albums for their premium subscribers. They say there are no winners in war, and that's especially true of the streaming one.
The way things are going, the average fan could soon be forced to fork out $30-per-month for three separate subscriptions, just to enjoy all their favorite music as soon as it’s released. At that point, you (and the artist) would be better off buying the albums you want to hear—if streaming subscriptions haven’t already killed the concept of paying directly for music, that is.
Allow this reply to a Pitchfork tweet about the Jay Z-pulling-music-from-Spotify story to illustrate my point:
There’s a streaming war going on outside no man is safe from. Classic albums are being pulled without warning and future classics are being used as pawns in a petty game of music industry politics. You better hope you pledged allegiance to the right streaming company—or at the very least, hope your broke ass can afford an extra $10-a-month. Tell that to the artists who get paid a hundredth of a cent for every stream you throw their way. The value of music has plummeted yet the cost of streaming could be on the rise—it’s the greatest trick the devil ever pulled. Won't somebody please think of the Amazon Prime subscribers?!
Maybe that’s a bit of a dystopian way to describe streaming. But the next time Jay Z pulls his music from under your nose, you can find me bumping my purchased copy of The Blueprint on my 2009 iPod Classic (she’s still going strong), completely unbothered by all this streaming war bullshit.
Hov lost 92 bricks, but there’s no way he’s making me lose 92 Gigs.