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Labels banning Apple Music exclusives?

Speculation is growing that music giant Universal is set to block streaming exclusives following the release of the latest Frank Ocean, ‘Blonde’ on Apple Music. A new music industry letter suggests that Universal is to be the first major label to block artists from offering exclusives to services like Apple Music and Tidal. Alternative R&B star Ocean’s long-awaited second studio album was finally unveiled recently, four years since his debut, ‘Channel Orange’. Fears about piracy and viruses are also being raised, with many listeners having been forced to visit computer repair professionals after obtaining “exclusive” albums away from the intended platforms.

Are exclusives restrictive?

‘Blonde’ is one of the biggest releases of the year and was accompanied with a visual album, ‘Endless’. The blocking order has apparently come from Universal CEO Lucian Grainge, who is seen by many as the most powerful figure in the music industry. Bob Lefsetz, writer of a highly-influential music newsletter, says that Grainge sent out an e-mail on Monday ordering the ban to be put in place. The Universal Music Group or UMG released seven of the biggest-selling albums of last year. It’s thought that Grainge is unhappy with the way exclusives change the way music is consumed and sees them as “restrictive”.

A string of exclusives

Big-name acts signed to the UMG include Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and the Weeknd. A growing number of artists have been offering exclusives to streaming companies recently. These acts have included Kanye West, Beyoncé and Rihanna, all of which placed their latest albums exclusively on the service partially-owned by Jay-Z, Tidal, which has experienced mixed fortunes since it was relaunched last year. West and Rihanna’s albums have since been released on rival platforms including Spotify whilst Beyoncé’s latest record, ‘Lemonade’, remains a Tidal exclusive for now.

A rise in piracy levels?

Lefsetz also believes that exclusive streaming deals are harming not only consumers not happy about signing up to multiple platforms but artists who need to get their music heard. It’s though that those putting their music on one platform only could be seen as playing into the hands of pirates. Lefsetz says the Government should intervene and investigate Apple Music for conspiring with “the industry to change the game” and forcing consumers to pay for subscriptions.

Past controversies

Last year, Apple provoked fury from Taylor Swift, who was unhappy about the company refusing to pay artists for streams generated during free trial periods. The company later tweaked its model before Swift’s music was added to Apple Music. Apple has also drawn criticism from consumers after placing U2’s album ‘Songs of Innocence’ onto millions of devices without their owners’ consent. The move was seen as a PR disaster not only for Apple but the Irish rockers too.  Apple were said to have paid Drake $19 million for exclusive rights to his latest collection, ‘Views’, before it appeared on other streaming services.

Listeners forced to head to Apple?

Lefsetz claims the industry want Apple Music to be the “dominant platform” for music consumption and fears alternative acts will struggle to survive financially because of this. He accused Ocean of “screwing fans” with the exclusive deal. Ocean is rumoured to have taken a substantial upfront payment in exchange for exclusive rights to his two new albums, which have appeared on a huge number of torrent sites, with little evidence of policing this being available. Ocean and Apple have been accused of “taking the money and running” after receiving the payment from Apple and doing very little to remove the music from copyright-infringing sites. In 2014, Ocean reportedly took $212,500 from Chipotle for a cover version he then refused to record. It’s alleged that he then refused to return the cash before the company was forced to sue.

Illegal downloads and computer repair needs

Those tempted to head to copyright-infringing sites to access the stars’ new material are urged to consider security and avoid risking being hit by viruses, whilst also being warned about having legal action taken against them. Torrent sites can harbour serious malware, and scores of listeners across the world have been forced to take their machines to computer repair professionals after heading to the more legally-dubious parts of the web to obtain music and other copyrighted content. Streaming has regularly been credited with reducing music piracy levels whilst at the same time being criticised for the low rates companies pay to artists. It will be interesting to see whether the days of streaming exclusives are already coming to an end.



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