Music exclusives emerge as industry flashpoint

sparkler 300pxIt seems that each week kicks off with some new development in exclusive releases. The distribution approach has strong advocates and critics, and today’s news demonstrates just how controversial the path has quickly become for the music industry.

A report in Bloomberg credited unnamed sources who alleged that Spotify is taking steps to make the artists who have entered deals with rivals less prominent within its own ecosystem. The piece claimed that Spotify does not put tracks from former exclusive releases into its featured playlists. The sources also said that those songs would not appear as highly in search results once the exclusivity window ended. Artists who have given first rights to both Apple Music and Tidal have allegedly been impacted, although Bloomberg’s sources did not name any specific cases.

A Spotify representative said the charges about altering search results are “unequivocally false,” but did not comment on playlist placement or any other questions about how it presents former exclusives.

Spotify has made its stance known, arguing that exclusives are bad for both artists and listeners, and could encourage piracy rather than boosting subscriber numbers. The most recent results from Frank Ocean’s Blonde, an Apple Music exclusive that was pirated more than 750,000 times in the UK alone in its first six days after release, backs up those concerns. Blonde has become the big recent touchpoint for exclusive albums, sparking internal strife in Ocean’s former label Universal and raising questions about the element of surprise in planning a release. Given the intensity of industry responses to each new development, and the potential business ramifications they can have, the topic of exclusive releases will likely be a central one in digital music discussions for some time.

Anna Washenko