Our idols are plotting against us. Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL and YouTube need us to pledge our pennies on the dollar toward their music because otherwise this thing we love cannot exist.
To listen to our favorite artists, we often must register for multiple streaming services. Exclusives drain fans. And top-selling artists like Chance the Rapper and Drake, who released projects with a small two-week Apple Music exclusive window, aren’t without blame.
When Prince passed away earlier this year, Purple One followers flocked to TIDAL, the only service with rights to stream Prince’s extensive catalogue. Fans could of course use TIDAL’s free one-month trial to mourn Prince; that is, if they hadn’t used that trial when Beyoncé released scorched-earth, no-she-really-dissing-Jay-it’s-cray monument Lemonade.
Even previous “free” streaming services like SoundCloud and YouTube flipped the script this year, introducing a paywall tier to listen to some of your favorite internet artists. I mean, have you been to an artist’s SoundCloud page lately? To find those five or six random SoundCloud drops requires eons of scrolling to reach the loosies.
This is probably why Spotify maintains its massive dominance in the streaming era: it was fast on the scene and its sleek interface never encumbers users. While it was a bit of a PR stunt, Spotify surely won fans over when global head of communication and public policy for Spotify Jonathan Prince said, “We believe long-term exclusives are bad for artists and they’re bad for fans.” Spotify is almost like your mother: It won’t fight for your love because they know it’s already theirs. After all, it brought you into this (streaming) world.
But here’s the bad news: things have only become more complicated recently. Consolidation, rumors, and Lyor Cohen might only make things worse. Confused? We don’t blame you. Here’s what you should know to help untangle all these crossed wires.
Lyor Cohen joins YouTube
The News: YouTube has named industry veteran Lyor Cohen the company’s global head of music. Cohen founded 300, the label where hip hop’s newest stars Young Thug and Fetty Wap reside. He also serves as the company’s CEO, and will continue in that role until Dec. 5 when the label “will transition Lyor’s day-to-day responsibilities to the leadership team within the company.”
While Cohen will eventually step down as 300’s CEO, he will remain its largest individual stakeholder.
What This Means: YouTube isn’t in a great spot. With their users, or the music industry, which is upset at the platform once again. The industry’s frustrated because it believes YouTube doesn’t pay them enough, and raised hell when YouTube announced its Music App and paid service YouTube Red. As Canadian singer-songwriter put it, “I love YouTube, but they are under-paying and exploiting creators and getting away with it.”
So Cohen, with his decades of experience at Def Jam and Warner Music Group, will be tasked with bridging that gap. YouTube isn’t the first to pull this move either. Apple Music brought in Jimmy Iovine, and his 25 years at Interscope, and Spotify recently hired Troy Carter—through his Atom Factory company he managed Lady Gaga and Charlie Pruth—as global head of creator services.
As Cohen wrote in a letter to his new YouTube Music team: “I’m confident that we can bridge the worlds of technology and music in ways that benefit everyone, instead of the zero-sum mentality that exists today.” Will this mean Thug and Fetty Wap will drop on YouTube? Who knows! But TIDAL and Apple Music have debuted multiple exclusive music videos on their platforms this year—don’t be surprised if YouTube tries to get in that game somehow.
Spotify in talks to ‘take over’ SoundCloud
The News: According to the Financial Times, Spotify is in advanced negotiations to acquire rival SoundCloud. Valued at $700 million, it’s not a cheap move for Spotify. While Spotify hit 100 million users this summer, a huge milestone, only 40 million of those subscribers are paid users. By comparison, Apple Music announced September it has 17 million paid subscribers. TIDAL, reportedly, has surpassed 1 million.
What This Means: SoundCloud has something every streaming platform desperately craves: users. SoundCloud claims to have 175 million users. A bit generous? Some overlap with Spotify subscribers? Sure, but even half of that number could be a huge boon for Spotify.
What’s more is what SoundCloud offers that no other service provides: the rare, the remixes, the archived radio shows, the DJ sets. As ReCode explains, “Instead of the 30 million tracks that most services offer, SoundCloud says it has 125 million.” Spotify could give SoundCloud the business structure it’s desperately needed to monetize its platform.
Will SoundCloud lose what makes it special in the process? Namely, being a user-friendly host to a wealth of artists? Hopefully not. But the acquisition would surely benefit both parties.
Apple Music denies TIDAL rumors
But head of Apple Music Jimmy Iovine squashed those rumors two weeks ago, telling Buzzfeed News, “We’re really running our own race. We’re not looking to acquire any streaming services.”
What This Means: As a business plan, these two pairing up makes the most sense. They both deal in exclusive content from artists and could create a quasi-monopoly on that strategy. In addition to just plain-old exclusives, Apple Music has its Beats 1 Radio shows and TIDAL boasts behind-the-scenes artist documentaries and artist-generated playlists.
Moreover, TIDAL could use the help. Jay Z’s streaming service reported $28 million in losses for 2015 and who knows they’d report for 2016 without pop monoliths like Rihanna, Kanye, and Beyoncé. Apple Music, meanwhile, has some of pop music’s other biggest stars like Frank Ocean, Drake, and Chance the Rapper. All the artists released watershed projects this year and it would be a pretty convincing argument if they were all housed under one streaming platform.