There’s a war going on online no music fan is safe from. And it doesn’t matter if you are a card-carrying member of the BeyHive, Rihanna‘s Navy or Taylor Swift‘s #Squad, your ear drums will eventually get caught in the crossfire.
After the release of Frank Ocean‘s long-awaited and much-anticipated album Blonde exclusively on Apple Music, his label Universal Music Group reportedly banned all of its artists from granting exclusive releases to premium streaming services like TIDAL and Apple Music – the latest in the never-ending cat and mouse between our favorite artists and the corporations that exist to exploit them. In their struggle for leverage, labels are punishing their customers, marginalizing their artists, and watering down everyone’s experience with the art form formerly known as music (yes, music was an art before it became a business).
But, just like everything else in our capitalistic society, profitability will continue to trump creativity unless we find a better process for delivering music from the studio to our speakers. Until then, the system will keep trying everything in its power to prevent a better option from emerging.
If the revolutionary releases of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and Beyoncé’s Lemonade didn’t already scare the powers that be, music’s favorite rebel Frank Ocean exposed just how little fans and artists actually need record labels these days with the unorthodox release of his latest works Endless and Blonde. Ocean’s bold move may have been the final straw for the industry’s masters.
Just days after Ocean’s projects broke the Internet without the aid of any marketing build-up (except for that live stream of him building a wooden staircase), UMG announced a move intended to break its artists’ spirits and discourage all of its employees from getting any more bright ideas about breaking industry tradition. But the more you try to control something, the less power you actually have over it. And it’s no secret that the entire media industry’s leverage has been slipping like Earl Simmons since the early 2000s.
From Limewire to torrents to today’s Wild West of social media, technology has been eating away at the labels’ once secure infrastructure for a while. And with artists like Beyoncé, Drake, and Kanye continuing to shock, finesse, and call out the system at every turn, it will get worse for the labels before it gets better.
Especially if these corporations continue to punish their customers in an effort to control their employees (as opposed to, you know, working with all parties to serve everyone’s best interests). If the struggle continues, we can only expect more union-esque ventures like TIDAL and creative rebellions like Ocean’s to pop up and balance the scales of creative justice. But is there a solution that serves all involved?
We thought streaming was a solution. But the streaming services have proven they want nothing more than to takeover the labels’ oppressive reins, hiding music behind a paywall only accessible to subscribers who can never actually own any content. Even fans who can afford to pay for subscriptions are technically only renting access to their favorite songs on a month-to-month basis. Without an alternative, both fans and artists are being pimped by a crooked market.
The only hope for a solution is for more great artists like Ocean, West and Bey to sacrifice traditional revenue streams for true freedom. Still, everybody needs to get paid. Throwing off the shackles of record labels and paywall-driven streaming services only works if fans back the rebellion with their dollars — if not $17.99 for a CD or digital download, then in the form of merchandise, concert tickets and more. But, with only so many consumer dollars to go around, some of your favorite careers might not make it to the other side.
Art, like business, ultimately comes down to survival of the fittest. And the corporate suits must realize that they will need a lot more people in their corner if they plan to take on a mob as deep as music fans.
Seriously, have you ever met anyone who cares as much about their favorite CEO as their favorite musician? Me either. No wonder they’re so shook.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty, Twitter