The age of music exclusivity

Popular artists opt for exclusive album streams, fans left with few options


In the past couple of years, streaming services have overpowered physical CD sales. Many artists are opting to release their music online using music services rather than producing CDs.

In the modern trend of digital music, artists struggle to find ways to make profit. Album sales, both digital and physical, are at an all-time low.

Three of the most anticipated albums of the year were released on the exclusive streaming sites Tidal and Apple Music.

Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, Beyonce’s Lemonade and Frank Ocean’s Blonde weren’t immediately released to the public, but instead on exclusive online streaming services. Originally, Spotify couldn’t carry the albums when they released and five months after its debut, Lemonade can still only be heard on Tidal.

Blonde is now available on Spotify after two weeks as an Apple Music exclusive. Although the album was a limited release, Ocean nabbed his first number one spot on the Billboard charts, making it the third largest album of the year.

Spotify, a popular music-streaming program among college students, has a free version as well as a $5 monthly ad-free version. It currently has 39 million paid subscribers, compared to Tidal’s 4 million.

Spotify is a cheap way to listen to multiple types of music, but people are still choosing to pay for other services due to their exclusive contracts with artists such as Kanye West and Beyonce.

Consumers are forced to subscribe to listen to their favorite artists who make their music more exclusive.

Daniel Butler, a senior biological sciences major, says that he resorts to alternative methods to listening to exclusive albums to avoid paying a monthly fee for the music.

“I’ll listen to those albums, but not through the streaming service,” Butler said. “I download their albums from another site.”

Artists can make big money from exclusive streaming sites but they may be losing sales from listeners who don’t want to subscribe to an expensive service.

“I think it makes them lose money,” Butler said. “More artists should do like Chance the Rapper does, free digital music and have fans either pay for physical copies or merchandise at his shows. It’s a great business model since most people aren’t buying music anymore and it gets the product out to more people.”

Chance the Rapper released his two most recent mixtapes for free. The album that brought him critically acclaimed Acid Rap was provided as a free download in 2013. Coloring Book, his 2016 follow-up, was presented as a free stream.

In addition to making albums less available on legal platforms, online exclusives usually make it harder to find illegal downloads as well.

Matt Conetta, a senior political science major, is upset with the lack of availability for downloading exclusive albums. An alternative to buying an album is downloading it for free off sites like YouTube.

“I find it hard whenever some new music is an online exclusive,” Conetta said. “I think online streaming is a real disservice to people who choose to download music illegally.”

Illegal downloading isn’t a new trend. It’s been used more frequently as artists continue to make their music exclusive.

This doesn’t seem to stop artists from releasing their music exclusively and looking to make their profit that way.

“It’s definitely the big fad and Frank Ocean managed to make a killing,” Conetta said. “We’ll see how he does financially over time.”

But some fans, no matter how loyal, refuse to pay the hefty fees for music services like Tidal and Apple Music, instead waiting for the music to be put out for free on apps they already use.

Kyle Serena, a senior environmental geoscience major, would rather wait and download those albums from YouTube or other similar websites for free.

“I just wait for the albums until they’re on YouTube or Spotify,” Serena said. “It for sure screws the fans over but hey, it’s their music. So if they want to make as much money as possible and they think people will buy it still, then that’s going to be the way it is.”

Andrew Safe is a staff writer and can be reached at