Analysis

It’s a hard knock life (if you’re a Jay Z fan on Spotify)


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In 2017, the dust is starting to settle on the question of how ‘exclusives’ will work on music-streaming services.

We appear to be moving into an era where by and large, albums will be available on all the services, with the occasional week-long single-service promotional exclusive, and the new option to keep big new albums off Spotify’s free tier for up to two weeks after their release.

The threat of long-term single-service exclusives that was being discussed a lot 12-18 months ago has receded. Instead, that kind of exclusivity will now revolve more around ‘original content’ that backs up the albums, particularly involving video material.

In 2017, from Drake to Ed Sheeran, cultural clout requires ubiquity across all the audio-streaming services at least, although as their contrasting approaches to YouTube show – Drake isn’t that bothered while Sheeran put every track off his album on it – there’s no set policy when it comes to music videos.

All of this is a long introduction to some puzzling news on Tidal co-owner Jay Z’s back catalogue, with more removals afoot on other streaming services.

The details are a bit murky, mind: initial reports that Apple Music was affected as well as Spotify have been questioned, and even on Spotify, here in the UK we’re still seeing albums including ‘Reasonable Doubt’ and ‘Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life’ available to stream, despite indications in US media coverage that they’ve been pulled.

As yet, there’s no word from Roc Nation or Jay Z on what’s been happening.

Our long-held view that artists have the right to decide where and how they make their music available remains true, albeit with the equally long-known caveat that decisions to withhold it often drive people to the world those artists can’t control: piracy.

We’re also aware that sometimes when catalogue is removed from streaming services, it’s in preparation for a relaunch of remastered / repackaged / rights-reclaimed versions, as happened with Radiohead’s b-sides when they made the transition from EMI to Beggars Group.

Still, if Jay Z is retreating from other streaming services, it probably doesn’t help Tidal; it probably doesn’t hurt Spotify; admittedly it’s unlikely to dent his cultural importance; but it may annoy some of his fans.

More crucially, it makes that music unavailable to a generation of potential new fans, deprived of the chance to follow the path back from their current hip-hop idols to one of the most significant artists in the genre. For that reason more than any other, we hope the catalogue reappears soon.

Stuart Dredge

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