Frank Ocean has just shaken up the music industry, probably forever. His dual exclusive releases via Apple on Friday and Saturday ignited a long overdue debate about exclusive streaming releases; and hidden in the details are lessons that should be sending shockwaves through the executive suites at Universal, Sony and WMG.
Yesterday, Universal Music Group chief Lucian Grainge sent a memo to his executive team ending the practice of streaming release exclusives. His decision was caused, at least in part, by Frank Ocean's latest dual Apple Music exclusives, alongside other recent Apple and TIDAL exclusive releases by major artists.
Spotify, which has long shunned exclusives calling them bad for fans, is certainly celebrating; even though Grainge will likely make exceptions when superstar artists make demands or big checks waived. Still, Ocean and Grainge have ignited a long overdue debate over the power and the potential damage of all exclusive releases.
Ocean Splits With Universal
In addition to a difference of opinion over streaming, Ocean's two back to back full length releases also appear to mark a major split with Def Jam and Universal Music.
Metadata attached to the release on Apple Music show that the second release. "Blonde," is out on the artist's own indie label Boys Don’t Cry, which is not affiliated with Def Jam or parent Universal Music Group (UMG). A source familiar with the situation confirmed the split to Forbes.
So even without a major label, "Blonde" is headed for #1 in both the US and UK, according to Billboard, with 225-250,000 album equivalent streams exclusively from Apple.
Just in case anyone at UMG, Sony and WMG missed the irony:
Frank Ocean's ability to connect directly with fans and press driven by social media has all but guaranteed a #1 debut on at least two continents.
Yes, UMG invested millions in his marketing, but now he does need them anymore. All that Frank Ocean needed to hit #1 was Apple and social media.
Agenda For Next UMG Board Meeting
1) Direct to fan marketing and sales work.
2) When artists get big they don't need us anymore. Our value is now almost entirely on the front end of their careers.
3) Artists need Apple, Tidal and Spotify more than then need labels ...or radio.
PS: Streaming income has a long tale. Reversion clauses that return ownership to artists after 5 -7 years further guarantee our demise.