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Why Music Streaming Exclusives Are a Necessary Evil

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Is it possible to subscribe to one music streaming platform and get access to all of the new releases you desire? In 2016, the answer is simply no. I speak from experience; after switching from Apple Music to Tidal to get my hands on The Life of Pablo, staying on Tidal for Lemonade, moving back to Apple for Views, and staying on Apple for Coloring Book, I can attest that this increasing list of windowed and permanent exclusive releases is frustrating.

My initial assumption was that artists left out some of their core fans by limiting themselves to one streaming platform. However, the sales numbers behind some of the largest exclusive releases to date quickly dispelled this assumption.

Take Views as an example: Drake’s Apple Music exclusive set a new record for streaming with what would be equivalent to over a million album sales in its first week. Windowed exclusives, where an album is only made exclusive for a certain amount of time, can also boost sales by giving an album a second wind, which was the case behind Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. In its first two weeks, TLOP reportedly earned 250 million streams and doubled Tidal’s subscriber count. Then, when the album was made available on other platforms a month after its initial release, TLOP topped the Billboard 200 chart with over 99 millions steams – Kanye’s notoriously confusing release strategy payed off twofold.

Both of these albums prove that fans are willing to subscribe to a new streaming platform to gain access to their favorite artist. But it should be noted that most streaming platforms offer a free-trial period, and there is no way to gauge how many new subscribers actually stay on after their free-trial ends. While exclusive releases may be great at reeling in new users, it takes more than just exclusivity to win over their loyalty and get them to pay subscription fees.

So, what kinds of things can get users to stay subscribed after their trial is over? I find that unique features are what keep me interested in a streaming platform. For example, Tidal Rising, a section of Tidal that highlights up-and-coming artist, functions as an excellent tool for discovering new music. On Apple Music, Beats 1 Radio offers exclusive shows hosted by notable names in music like Zane Lowe.

The music industry is in the midst of an awkward transitional phase, and streaming exclusives are just the growing pains we must endure as listeners. Exclusive releases force users to test out new streaming platforms, and due to the success of this tactic, Micah Singleton for The Verge predicts that they will continue to be the new norm.

Although they can be frustrating, streaming exclusives are a necessary evil in determining which platforms will dominate the music industry of tomorrow.

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