Frank Ocean’s new album, Blonde, debuted as one of the biggest Apple Music exclusives of the year, but if his record label has its way, it will be the last exclusive anyone ever gets from one of its artists.
Universal Music Group, which owns Ocean’s label Def Jam, has reportedly banned artists from signing exclusive deals with streaming services like Apple Music and Tidal, both of which have used such “gets” to lure new customers over their paywalls.
In an unusually succinct post, music industry insider Bob Lefsetz revealed that UMG CEO Lucian Grainge “sent out an email to Universal executives today ending all future exclusives with Universal artists.”
Apple Music is gaining ground quickly on Spotify, the leading on-demand streaming music service, and faces possible competition from Pandora, an internet radio pioneer that is said to be readying an on-demand offering. Amazon also reportedly wants to roll out a $5-per-month streaming music service for users of its Echo smart speakers.
Banning exclusives could be a serious blow to Cupertino’s strategy for Apple Music, which has scored exclusives from artists such as Drake, Chance the Rapper, Taylor Swift, Pharrell and Future thanks to the company’s connections and its seemingly endless cash hoard.
UMG had seven of the top 10 best-selling albums of 2015. Drake, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Stapleton and the Alabama Shakes are all signed to UMB labels, which brought in 38.5 percent of the year’s recorded-music sales.
Are Apple Music exclusives a bad deal?
Lefsetz, a frequent critic of Apple, previously slammed the Ocean deal and exclusives in general, claiming they ultimately hurt the evolving landscape of the music business. He accused the company of conspiring with the music industry to “get everybody to pay for a subscription by putting hit content behind a paywall.”
“Apple should be investigated by the government for antitrust,” he wrote earlier this week. “How do you compete with the world’s richest company that’s got endless cash on hand? You can’t. It’d be like expecting hillbillies to get into Harvard if slots went to the highest bidder.”
The only other streaming service that currently competes with Apple Music for exclusives is Tidal, whose biggest scores came from Beyonce, Kanye West and Rhianna due to their connections with Tidal founder Jay Z.
Spotify has reportedly debated getting into the exclusives arms race but is still struggling to turn a profit before its IPO, no thanks to Apple.