Universal Music Group is reportedly done with streaming exclusives. According The Guardian, UMG CEO Lucian Grainge sent out an email Monday in which he ordered all of the company’s record labels to stop making exclusive distribution deals with services like TIDAL, Spotify, and Apple Music. A source with knowledge on the situation told Forbes Grainge’s decision was greatly influenced by Frank Ocean’s partnership with Apple, which had exclusive rights to his latest music releases.
Though Ocean’s visual album Endless was delivered through Def Jam Recordings—a label owned by UMG—his sophomore studio album was released independently through his Boys Don’t Cry label. As we reported on Tuesday, Ocean was able to do this after he fulfilled his contractual obligations to Def Jams with the release of Endless, which dropped shortly before Blonde. So assuming Grainge doesn’t have a change of heart, Endless will be the company’s last exclusive deal.
In recent years, streaming services have relied heavily on proprietary content as a means to attract paying subscribers. TIDAL has inked exclusive contracts with acts like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Kanye West; while Apple has landed exclusive deals with everyone from Drake and Chance the Rapper to Future and Taylor Swift. These agreements have racked in heavy cash for the streaming services, but some believe harms the artists and fans.
Bob Lefsetz, a music critic/analyst, recently published a piece in which he criticizes the exclusive streaming deals and the musicians who agree to them, specifically Ocean.
“Shame on you Frank, and shame on everybody else who takes money from Apple and screws fans,” he wrote. “There’s enough money in music without taking every last buck, and the joke is on you, for thinking so short term, you want your music available to everybody, because in these days of information overload we need nobody, everybody is superfluous, you don’t want to enter the marketplace with one hand tied behind your back.”