Kanye West

The problem with exclusivity is that it can create two extremes: excitement or refusal. The harder it is to get something, the more you might long to get it. Well, unless there’s another way around; one that allows you to sneak in through the backdoor of that exclusive club. In the music industry the club is called ‘exclusive streaming-only’ and the backdoor is called ‘piracy’ – and the problem is that you need to get rid of the first part to avoid people even checking for the backdoor. There are different strategies with labels and artists currently searching for the fitting one. The one that KANYE WEST currently picked for his new album The Life Of Pablo is the wrong one and here’s why.

To be fair, it’s been one hell of a tough week for Yeezy, following the hyped release of his latest album. We already questioned his failure as a role model, acknowledged his achievements for the fashion world and ignored the whole Twitter meltdown which might rob the last remaining elements of ‘cool’ from the KANYE WEST brand. As being 53 Million Dollars in debt isn’t already hard enough, his decision to never sell The Life Of Pablo via retailers and have it exclusively via the TIDAL streaming service is another questionable economic decision. It currently results in an immense raise of piracy. According to Torrent Freak, the album is already one of the most illegally downloaded albums of all time.

A Tweet with huge consequences...

A Tweet with huge consequences…

According to Torrent Freak’s Ernesto an estimated 500.000 people have already grabbed a copy of The Life Of Pablo after the first day. By the time he wrote his article Ernesto already counted 10.000 people who were sharing a copy of the album via services like Pirate Bay. According to the writer this is ‘something we haven’t seen with a music release before.’

Music piracy profits from the partly confusing release strategies

No room for ‘schadenfreude’ here but a fine example on how not to run things in the year 2016. Various big players tried out different forms of release strategies with certain exclusive deals in the past months. RIHANNA released her album ANTI exclusively via TIDAL, but only for a limited amount of time and with the immediate option to buy an extended version via iTunes. For RiRi the strategy paid off. COLDPLAY went ‘TIDAL and Apple-music only’ for one week only before also offering their latest LP A Head Full Of Dreams via Spotify. TAYLOR SWIFT still refuses to stream her just Grammy-awarded 1989 album via that service as well but also offers other options. And then there’s the ‘casa ADELE‘ which was really unique as she didn’t put her 25 LP on any streaming service and entirely focussed on physical and digital sales. It’s a trend against the modern times but given the fact that she delivered the most successful album of the past year you really can’t argue against this move.

Who's got the last laugh now? ADELE's strategy was as brave as it was successful

Who’s got the last laugh now? ADELE’s strategy was as brave as it was successful

So, the big players all decided to follow individual paths and the strategy behind it is quite simple. With a huge following like they got, they can dictate the rules to the market. Still, they have to offer alternatives and follow a strategy. KANYE WEST could have said something: ‘Listen guys, the album will be for stream only via TIDAL because they offer the best quality but there’s a physical and digital option coming up with a few more tracks for those who are interested.’ Well, that obviously is a bit too long for a single Tweet but you get where I am heading here. Artists, don’t underestimate your following! If you plan to publish the most controversially discussed record of the year you better make sure that people actually CAN discuss it by giving them access to it without creating too many obstacles. People are clever these days: they will find a way to listen to your music whether you led them or not. Well, except you’re having pharmacy industry madman Martin Shkreli buying the only physical WU-TANG CLAN album copy that exists. But this is a really special case as well.

For the other 90 percent of the artists, especially the ones in the independent sector, such reckless behaviour like the one from KANYE must feel like utter mockery to them.

All the other acts who haven’t got 2 Million followers on Facebook and Co. can’t effort to make the rules and are therefore at the mercy of the streaming services to get there music out to the people. The case also shows the enormous gap between top and bottom of the music industry that gets bigger and bigger with every year. You need to have a strategy and a plan, you need to encourage your fans and actually have a fanbase that is willing to follow that strategy. That said, we are really looking forward to whatever RADIOHEAD are planning with their new album. All this trouble might ultimately lead to the question what we are willing to pay for music and art in general. We’re avoiding the solution here with these distracting actions.People still have the power to change these things. You might not end with 53 Million in debt if you refuse to listen to them but exclusivity itself isn’t automatically the solution.