Remember streaming exclusives? Everyone seems to have given up on them. Well, everyone except Tidal. It has announced that it has the exclusive on Originals, a posthumous album from Prince containing a number of unheard demos from the legendary artist, and it will be on the streaming service from 7th June. It appears this will just be an exclusive for two weeks.
No matter that it’s a short-lived thing. The point here is that Tidal is really pushing its Prince exclusive, flagging up the high-quality audio side of the service, offering new users a free 90-day trial and encouraging them to pre-save the album to their collections. On top of this, it is hosting a series of listening sessions around the world for subscribers. There will also be an event in LA hosted by Jay-Z the day before the album is released and subscribers can win tickets to it. The streaming service is, it is fair to say, throwing a lot at this release.
Tidal has had, it is equally fair to say, a bumpy old time of it with exclusives. The raft of A-listers who got on board when Jay-Z’s Project Panther investment vehicle bought the erstwhile WiMP in 2015 promised they would deliver all manner of exclusives to the shiny new service. Some of these stars either offered underwhelming content or misunderstood that “exclusive” doesn’t necessarily mean “for a few weeks”. Jay-Z and Beyoncé stuck to their guns for a long time, but the former put his Blueprint trilogy of albums on Apple Music last week and the latter buckled and made her 2016 Lemonade album available on all the other major streaming services as of last month. To be fair to them, these albums were exclusive to Tidal for a number of years. But all good things – and all exclusives, it seems – must come to an end.
Spotify has always held firm on the line that album exclusives were bad for consumers and the major labels who flirted with big-name exclusives soon came round to the same way of thinking. This became even more pronounced when streaming began to really matter to first-week chart positions and the labels arrived at the sharp realisation that not being on every DSP would seriously hobble a hot new release’s chances in the charts.
Tidal, of course, limps far behind all the other leading DSPs in terms of adoption and user numbers. One, if one were wildly cynical, might suggest that the exclusives it has had to date have not significantly moved the needle for it in terms of subscriber numbers in the long term. And yet it continues to push this exclusive angle. One, if one were of a pretentious literary bent, might also quote the ending of The Great Gatsby here as distilling something about the predicament Tidal’s hard line has created for itself. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”