Why Exclusives Are Terrible for Fans, Artists, and the Streaming Music Business

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The following MBW blog comes from Scott “DJ Skee” Keeney, renowned radio DJ, host of Skee TV, and founder of Dash Radio – a curator-led digital broadcast platform that ‘merges the best of terrestrial and internet radio’. His comments comes hot on the heels of reports that Frank Ocean is following Drake with the second monster Apple Music exclusive this year.


A few days ago, Kanye West posted a short tweetstorm about what he called the “Tidal Apple beef” where he encouraged the heads of the biggest music streaming services to come together and declare a truce.

While he didn’t say it explicitly, this “beef” he’s talking about is their increasing competitiveness over securing artist exclusives.

This is a pivot for West, who released “Life of Pablo” exclusively on Tidal (and said at one point it would never be released on Apple Music), only to see massive numbers of illegal downloads of the album in the wake of his action. Alas, no one seems to have learned any lessons from that debacle — major artists continue to release albums exclusively a single platform, and I’ve heard one of the major streaming services has told employees to go all in on securing exclusive releases.

This is a sad state of affairs, because exclusives are bad for fans, bad for artists, and bad for streaming service adoption. Exclusivity as we know it was a result of a desperate music business struggling in the big-box retail era. Once record stores started going under and outlets like Target and Wal-Mart became the places mainstream consumers bought music, the chains demanded that labels give them something special to entice customers to their doors.

“The whole promise of streaming was all the music you wanted… Fans are seeing that was a sham.”

The main problem with carrying this over into the digital age is that the whole consumption model is totally different.

Fans are no longer asked to go to another store to make a discreet purchase, but rather to sign up for an entirely new and much more expensive service that offers almost exactly the same thing as every other service.

While streaming TV and film sites like Netflix and Hulu offer enough different content to make two subscriptions potentially worthwhile, the music streaming services each have 99% of the same content — and it’s not really worth it to pay another $9.99 a month for a few albums.

So the fans simply go off and download the albums from torrent sites, or wait until the artist eventually caves and releases it wide. Artists, meanwhile, lose money on the illegal downloads. What’s more, they lose fan goodwill.

The whole promise of streaming was that all the music you wanted would be there for you if you paid in good faith — but now fans are seeing that was a sham, and responding accordingly.

Streaming sites, meanwhile, are alienating fans and throwing away money on a marketing strategy that simply doesn’t work. Fans don’t respond to exclusives — that’s just the simple truth. They respond to excellent personalized playlists, like those offered by Spotify, or expert curation, or a great user experience. No one wants to feel like they’re getting ripped off just to hear an album they want by an artist they love.

There are so many points of differentiation streaming services could go after that don’t involve exclusives — live radio shows, fantastic playlists, good design, great original video content, even cool VR or 360 video experiences.

It’s understandable that in the absence of being able to compete on price, streaming services would be frustrated and follow the path of least resistance — but that’s unlikely to work out in the long run.

Kanye’s right: the exclusivity madness needs to stop now.


Recognized as one of the most influential figures in today’s entertainment business by both Forbes and Billboard, DJ Skee has generated more than one billion media impressions in under a decade, and has over 500,000 social network followers.  @djskee

 Music Business Worldwide

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