Tag Archives: Jay-Z

Did Pharrell Just Kill the Exclusive?

pharrell-freedom-680x676I’m pretty sure I’ve found the song of the summer, and it just so happens that this same song has killed off a central strategic pillar of several music streaming services.

First of all, let’s start with some background.  Pharrell’s “Freedom” is an irresistibly infectious hit (la la la la… la la la la la—good luck getting that out of your head).  And, blurry legal issue aside, Pharrell’s been on an uninterrupted A-list hit streak for a few years now.

As well, Apple spent a lot of time and money to let people know that he was going to drop an exclusive on Apple Music to launch the whole enterprise putting it everywhere from press releases to their big TV spot  to the social channels of everyone from Apple to Pharrell himself.

Now we’re a week and a half into the track, and it’s really starting to catch the mainstream with everyone from the USA Today to Kanye talking about it.

But here’s the rub: now that the track is catching on everywhere, it’s available everywhere.  As soon as everyone started to like the exclusive, the exclusivity was gone.

This raises some pretty fundamental questions not just about this effort from Apple but also about music exclusives overall.

First, in a world where even hit songs from huge artists take at least a week to really catch hold, is there any benefit to a brand or streaming service to have it for the first few days when a track is just starting to take off?  Does your average (Spotify) user care?  More pointedly, is there anyone who does care about having the track in those first few days who won’t go through the trouble of finding it on YouTube or another not-so-legal destination?

Second, what is the residual value of an exclusive track?  In a month’s time, will anyone remember that Apple had the track exclusively for a few days?  Or is the only value realized if you keep doing exclusives over and over again, leaving you chasing the proverbial rabbit around the race track to make any of it matter?

Third, how much of your brand do you need to uncomfortably contort to promote exclusives?  Apple found this out the hard way– Zane Lowe played the song repeatedly during the time that the song was exclusive to Beats One radio… but the trouble is, that’s the opposite of the point of Beats One Radio, and completely contrary to pretty much everything Zane Lowe stands for (Twitter complained plenty about this).  To promote the exclusive, Apple had to compromise the core beliefs of the service.  Tricky.

These three questions clearly demonstrate that Apple’s last week with Pharrell casts some pretty big doubts on the exclusive windows that are presumed to be a pillar of the strategies of streaming services.

Can Taylor-esque boycotts leave marks on Spotify and scare Eddy Cue?  Yes, but these scenarios are limited to the nearly singular kinds of artists that yield as much market power as she does (see below for the source of Taylor’s singularly stunning market power).


To be fair to Apple, exclusives aren’t a strategy of theirs as much as they are an enabler of their curation strategy.  Apple has bet big on curation over algorithms, but their experience with Beats Music taught them that anonymous curation doesn’t work: playlists made by anonymous editors won’t work among mainstream audiences… but playlists made by celebrities just might.  So, for Apple, celebrity exclusives are an ingredient that turbo charges their curation strategy.

But, for others (read: Tidal), the implications are far more worrying.  From the first moments of their re-launch, Tidal has ignored the high fidelity sound that had been their niche trademark, and bet big on exclusives of everything from songs to videos to playlists.  In fact, the only place you can currently stream Prince tracks is Tidal.  But you didn’t know that until just now, and that’s the point.

One of the biggest stars on the planet just invalidated one of the few strategic paths that have been identified by streaming services. If not exclusives, what should they do?

More on that in the days to come.

Don’t Bonk: A Playlist


On the brink of a birthday, I’ve resolved to run more. Not more frequently, but longer. Since my daughter was born, I’ve become all too accustomed to runs more apt to be measured in blocks than miles. 15 months in, it’s time to shelve the excuses and stretch it out in search of endorphins.

If recent past is any prologue, I’m going to need some help.

Unceremoniously entitled “Don’t Bonk,” this playlist is meant to get me going. Its running time clocks in at an optimistic hour and a half, and it spans a wide range of genres in search of an extra gear.


1. Avicii, “Wake Me Up”– Fair warning: this mix isn’t above the somewhat cheesy use of situation-specific lyrics. But if you’ve just hauled yourself out of bed early, you’re not above someone encouraging you to wake up.

2. Kanye West, “Power” (Swizz Beatz remix)– You’re now awake enough to be registering the inevitable inconvenience of the first mile. A little swagger will help.

3. Lil’ Wayne, “6 Foot 7 Foot”– Let’s double up on that dose of swagger.

4. Diplo & GTA, “Boy Oh Boy”– Putting some topspin on a beat from Missy and Tim, we’re looking to find a bit of a groove here.

5. TVOTR, “Will Do” (XXXChange Dancehall Mix)– If I’m going to see the second half of this playlist, I’m going to have to settle the pace a bit.

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Making Music Material


Near the end of the recently released video for Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby,” we catch a glimpse of performance artist Marina Abramovic commenting that “music is the most immaterial part of art.”

Of any art, I would argue that music is unmatched in what it is able to create.  Emotion.  Connection.  Action.  Memory.  Music, more powerfully than just about everything, is a means– not an end.    It is immaterial in itself because focusing on the music alone is missing the point.

This video is magical not because of the parade of superstars featured in it.  Quite the opposite.  This video’s power resides in the fact that the people surrounding Jay could be any of us.  In fact, they represent all of us: celebrating the unmatched effect that music can have on our movements, our moods, our memories.

This is what makes music the most material art of all.

Two Sides, One Bill


ImageA quick  juxtaposition to get back in the posting mood.

Two visions of avarice: one bristling with braggadocio, one brazenly bizarre.

Jay-Z’s “100$ Bill,” off the Great Gatsby soundtrack …

and Cosmo Sheldrake’s “Rich,” off of whatever intriguing planet this guys comes from…


I used to celebrate my birthdays by filling them with places and experiences that I’d never attempt on any ordinary day.

Now I realize that birthdays are about taking a moment to savor how extraordinary the everyday actually is.

Thank you all for making yesterday so special.

Encore, Jay-Z (Live)

The Best and Brightest of 2011: Day Six

Just in time, here’s some of the best that 2011 has to offer for an upbeat end of the year.

Can a song be played eight times in a row at a concert without starting a riot?  If the song is this good, it can.  Here’s a slight re-mix featuring a take from T.I. before he finds a way to end up back in jail.

Ni**as In Paris (Remix) (Feat. T.I.), Jay-Z and Kanye West

Hands down the best mash-up of the year, brought to you by Pretty Lights.

Empire State Of Mind Ft. Notorious B.I.G. (Pretty Lights Remix)

Whether on her own albums or others, pretty much everything Rihanna touched this past year turned to gold.  Here’s a Xaphoon Jones remix that gives a new touch of dancehall to one of her hits.

Hard (Xaphoon Jones Kaboom Edit), Rihanna

Despite a clever marketing campaign that seemed to become the stuff of case studies, nobody really seemed to care that The Beastie Boys were back.  But even if only for that genius video, this track deserves a place on the list.

Make Some Noise, Beastie Boys

Well, there you have it.  Thank you all for reading: this really was a break out year for the blog.  I hope you all have a wonderful New Year’s, and I look forward to typing your ear off about dozens of songs you simply must hear in the new year.

Waiting for Cole, not Godot

J. Cole has been on the rise for so long that you had to start to wonder if the climb would become a true take off.  I’ve written post after post about how he is re-writing the playbook on music marketing by becoming the hottest thing out there before he’s ever even released something you could buy other than a concert ticket (see also: Frank Ocean).  But, with year after year passing without the arrival of an actual album, you had to wonder whether he is re-writing the playbook or if he just didn’t read it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for take off.  Here comes the second song that is single-worthy (listen to the as yet unfinished but still-infectious first here).  With a luxury rap lyrical vibe reminiscent of Watch the Throne, Cole storms the stage with an explosive verse from his boss leading the way.


Cole world, out at last on September 27.

Mr._Nice_Watch_Clean, J. Cole