After Kanye West’s release of The Life of Pablo on Jay-Z’s streaming service Tidal last February, a tense and controversial “streaming war” has emerged among the online music platforms of today. Dominating the streaming industry is Spotify, with 39 million paid subscribers as of August 2016. However, it’s the up-and-coming streaming platforms that are generating the most controversy over their exclusive releases: Apple Music with 15 million subscribers and Tidal with 3 million as of June this year.
While Spotify has been reluctant to jump into the business of acquiring streaming exclusives, Tidal and Apple Music have been pivotal in the releases of multiple acclaimed artists’ projects over the last year. Some of these projects include major album releases from the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna, as well as discographies from Jay-Z and Prince. Their rival, Apple Music, has been quick to join the trend as well, with new albums from Drake, Future and Frank Ocean being released exclusively on the service, as well as the discography of Taylor Swift.
Spotify’s response to its competitor’s feud has been rather indirect and debatably even more musically immoral than streaming exclusives themselves. According to Bloomberg Technology, there have been reports of artist’s songs and albums being buried in Spotify’s searches, making their works harder to find. These artists, though their names are yet to be released, supposedly are those who have agreed to exclusive terms with Apple Music and Tidal in the future. This passive-aggressive attack on the very musicians who give Spotify their revenue exhibits the desperation that this streaming war is bringing out in music streaming services.
To make the situation more fruitless, these exclusive releases are far from being secure on their respective platforms. Despite Tidal subscriptions doubling in the week following The Life of Pablo’s release, the album was reportedly pirated nearly 500,000 times merely a day after its initial availability. The day after dropping the record, West took to Twitter in an attempt to woo his fans towards Tidal subscriptions, proudly exclaiming that the album would “never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal.” Despite his best efforts to keep the album exclusive on Tidal for nearly six weeks, Kanye’s latest album was eventually made available to all major streaming services.
That decision to pull the record’s exclusivity from Tidal marked a now recurring trend in the world of streaming exclusives. After just a week of being exclusive to their respective platforms, Rihanna’s Anti, Drake’s Views From The 6 and Future’s EVOL were made available to every streaming and download service, and it’s predicted that Frank Ocean will do the same with his latest record. Needless to say, the tenseness and heavily questionable tactics of using streaming exclusives has made online music an increasingly hostile business, and with new releases around the corner every few months, the streaming war could cause even more frustration in music fans if Tidal and Apple Music’s competition stays heated.