Apple Music has reversed course on a controversial business strategy that left many in the industry with a sour taste in their mouths, according to Apple exec and music industry titan Jimmy Iovine.
The idea of paying artists for “exclusives,” or windows when their albums appear only on a specific streaming service — like Apple Music, Spotify, or Tidal — has been hotly debated over the last year.
Apple Music initially made it a significant piece of the company’s strategy, snagging high-profile exclusives from the likes of Drake, Frank Ocean, and Chance the Rapper. Jay Z’s Tidal, a smaller player, went full-throttle as well, getting Rihanna, Beyonce, and Kanye West. But market leader Spotify came out swinging against the practice, declaring it bad for both artists and fans.
Now Apple Music seems to be leaning away from exclusives.
“We tried it,” Iovine said of exclusives in a new interview with Music Business Worldwide. “We’ll still do some stuff with the occasional artist. The labels don’t seem to like it and ultimately it’s their content.” Later in the interview Iovine said that, generally, Apple Music didn’t want to disrespect or hurt record companies.
Kanye’s tough decision
The music industry sentiment toward exclusives shows how different the market for streaming video — i.e. Netflix — is from that of streaming music. Exclusive content has become the centrepiece for all the major video players, from Netflix to Hulu to Amazon Prime Video. It’s what defines the brand and wins customer loyalty.
Not so in music, where it has gotten a bad reaction from many labels and artists.
Last year, Universal’s CEO reportedly told the company’s labels to stop making exclusive deals with streaming services.
Kanye West also spoke out last year about the trouble the practice caused him in the lead-up to his latest album.
Before the release of “The Life of Pablo,” West was “in the [Apple Music] building all the time,” a former Apple Music staffer told Business Insider. That person said the general feeling was that Apple Music would get an exclusive window on his new album. But West was caught between his relationship with Jay Z, who owns much of Tidal, and Larry Jackson, Apple Music’s head of content. (West also owns an undisclosed portion of Tidal himself, along with some other heavyweight artists.)
West ended up giving the exclusive window to Tidal instead of Apple Music, but it wasn’t a decision that came easily, it seems.
“This Tidal Apple beef is f——- up the music game,” West wrote on Twitter last year. “I need Tim Cook Jay Z Dez Jimmy Larry me and Drake Scooter on the phone or in a room this week!!! F— all this d–k swinging contest. We all gon be dead in 100 Years. Let the kids have the music. Apple give Jay his check for Tidal now and stop tying to act like you Steve [Jobs].”
West was likely referring to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Jay Z, Jimmy Iovine, Larry Jackson, Apple Music-aligned rapper Drake (who reportedly signed a $US19 million deal with Apple in 2015), and music mogul Scooter Braun.
While West might not get his wish for Apple to buy Tidal, a move away from exclusives could make the release process less fraught for superstar artists trying to weigh up-front cash against maximum initial reach.