Frank Ocean’s release of Blond this past week has brought on (forgive us) a tidal wave of change in the music industry.
It’s not just huge because it’s his return to music after the acclaimed Channel Orange in 2012. It’s huge because his decision to go independent might just shake up the entire music industry from all sides: artist, label, channel.
Commence the power struggle.
This is what captured our minutes this week.
1. Ocean’s move to go independent is worrisome for labels because it threatens labels’ power.
We’ve long said that the power of creation can really be in anyone’s hands nowadays. Sure, Ocean has his own independent label Boys Don’t Cry, so he’s not making the album in his basement per say.
But typically the rule goes that artists don’t release two projects side-by-side so as to not distract from any due shine from other previous projects that the label has invested into.
Now Universal only has Endless, a visual album that’s not for sale but not Blond, which is bringing in the real numbers. While Ocean used Endless to fill his contractual obligations to UMG, releasing Blond immediately after and independently doesn’t exactly help UMG out.
At the artist’s level, Ocean splitting from the traditional record label dynamic has been very strategic for him. Billboard stated that he “increased his potential profit share from 14% to 70% of total revenues from Blond within a 24-hour period.”
While it’s reported that Universal has not made any plans to sue the artist, some are saying there might still be a chance.
The result of all of this? A lot of nervous thumb-twiddling on the side of corporate honchos watching as their talent consider the move to independent.
Sometimes, to get sh*t done, you just have to get it out there without anyone breathing down your neck. Great for the artist, not so good for the labels who now have reason to sweat. The bottom line is that the traditional methods of creation might no longer have such a rock-solid foundation.
There's not one way to create and artists are making strategic use of this knowledge.
2. Apple’s hold over Blond exemplifies how tech companies now play a part in the music industry by dictating how streaming works.
What the hell is a computer company doing in the music industry?
It’s not just a computer company. It’s just a tech company that happens to make computers.
Putting it bluntly, Apple has enough money to get rights to albums and pay the royalties that certain artists prefer over streaming services like Spotify that have low-royalties.
And why not. Apple is only going to extend its audience base, especially if it’s offering what those fans want and can’t get elsewhere.
Yet, it’s also a money grab. Get people to pay by putting the content they so desperately want behind a pay wall. And it’s happened before. Think Beyonce’s Lemonade, Kanye Wests’ The Life of Pablo and Drake’s Views.
On one hand, Apple created an opportunity to push itself closer to the stronghold that Spotify currently holds in streaming services. But it’s also forcing consumers’ hands, which could equally be positive or negative depending on who wants to pay or not.
3. However, the release of the album triggered a big change in how exclusive streaming rights will (or will not) work.
Exclusive can be good and bad for consumers. Good because people like to feel special, like they have something that others don’t. Bad because if they really want the music, they’re going to have to pay up.
Almost immediately after Blond’s release, Bob Lefsetz, a well-known industry insider, reported that Lucian Grainge (CEO of Universal Music Group) informed the company that UMG will no longer be participating in any exclusive streaming deals.
Put in plain terms, no more “exclusively on Apple Music” headers or the like will be part of any UMG-owned project.
Considering that UMG owns 80 record labels (including Interscope, Capital, Def Jam, etc.), there are several big-name artists that will be affected by this.
So if the music will just be everywhere, will artists bother with exclusive streaming deals? Or will they leave labels because they know they could probably get those lucrative deals on their own?
On the side of the consumer, there’s more reach for the album. If big record labels are just going to make the music widely available, then there’s no more need to pay or scramble for torrents.
This would be defensive for the record labels that want to prove that they are necessary. After all, if exclusive streaming is no longer well, exclusive, then things could go back to the original distributors: the labels.
The key here is that more options in this back-and-forth of digital distribution are available, both for the artists, labels and consumers.
Overall, the complex chain of events that Ocean’s new album has triggered in the music industry and larger technology sector have kept us wondering what will happen next. It’s going to be messy in the next little while.
There are a lot of unanswered “what ifs” here in terms of who will hold the power and who will get the music: all the more reason to keep watching to see what happens in this changing relationship between creators and distributors.
At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.
What will win this week?