Streaming exclusives, labels and the death of the ‘release date’


You’d be forgiven for having reached saturation point with thinkpieces about album exclusives on music-streaming services.

However, if you’ve got room for one more, make it Kobalt VP of global marketing strategy David Emery’s “High Wire” piece, which makes some typically-shrewd observations about 2016’s clutch of exclusives on Apple Music and Tidal.

“Now obviously, obviously, the Frank Ocean’s of this world aren’t and can’t be a blueprint for everyone else, for exactly the same reason that Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want scheme wasn’t something that any old band could make work,” wrote Emery this weekend.

“And I’m not saying the release of Blonde was perfect. But I think the current crop of exclusive and windowed releases are a manifestation of some significant industry shifts.”

Those include album releases geared around their digital distribution rather than their physical release, and the realisation that if the CD and vinyl version of an album come a few weeks later than the digital edition, fans don’t mind. Meanwhile, Spotify and Apple Music’s emphasis on curation is also playing a part.

“They are both building a significant voice that means that if they commit to a release, it means something. Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits playlist means something. Apple, who have clearly committed significant dollars to Frank Ocean means something,” he wrote.

“The more these unconventional releases keep happening, the more times people don’t release physical at the same time as digital, or announce a record the same day it’s released, the more this voice will grow.”

Emery also addresses the question of shifting sands between labels and managers, noting that for every argument that exclusive deals are bad for labels in terms of overall market dynamics, they could be seen as good for artists and managers who get huge exposure on a big streaming service plus funding for videos, other content and marketing.

“It’s a simple sum: how many listeners do you lose by not being on one platform, versus how many do you gain by the extra exposure on another?”

Written by: Stuart Dredge