Tag Archives: Taylor Swift

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.

30 Words of Music, Day 14: Free

The last week in the music world must have made Chris Anderson awfully happy.  In the span of a few days, Girl Talk and J. Cole have crushed internet servers around the world as they have released two enormously-huge, entirely-free albums.  These are not commercial albums that are ripped by fans and “stolen” via shady fileshare sites.  Nor are they slapdash collections of not-even-b-sides table scraps.  And they’re not even Radiohead-esque choose-your-own price gambits.

Rather, these are fully produced albums released by genuinely famous artists.  Just like you would typically think about big album releases.  Except they’re absolutely, unhesitatingly free.  And, as such, they are both the clearest evidence yet that the savvy ones out there have completely embraced the fact that pre-recorded music is best-suited as advertising for other revenue streams.

Just-wait-a-second, you say.  Didn’t Taylor Swift flip a million in a week?  Yes, she did.  But the lesson to be taken from Taylor’s success is her powerful use of social media to relate to a world of transitioning tweens, and the remarkable commercial resilience of country music.  Oh, and she should thank Kanye.

What’s more remarkable and more accurate a reflection of culture is that J. Cole, with two successful mixtapes under his belt, the backing of Jay-Z, and a hyperventilating following on the blogosphere, chooses to drop Friday Night Lights as another free mixtape.  Nearly a year in the rap limelight and he has yet to release a single song that costs a single cent.

Here are two songs off the “album.”  They sound like finished songs that you might hear on the radio, right?  Exactly.






Before I’m Gone, J. Cole

Home For The Holidays, J. Cole

As if this weren’t enough, Girl Talk threw a new album of genre-defying, mega-mash-up fun into the world today.  Unless you’re patient and crafty on the internets, you don’t have a hope of getting this down from Girl Talk’s overloaded servers anytime soon.  But yet, I bestow upon you two tasty treats from the guy I’ve already proclaimed as the preeminent party DJ of this decade.  Damn, this guy is fun.






Jump on Stage, Girl Talk

Down for the Count, Girl Talk

Leading artists, using pre-recorded music to melt the internet in ways that propel them to even more fame and promote their concerts and their brand.  This is the new school.

Hey, as I sign off, I’m sorry about the extended absence.  I feel especially bad because I just checked traffic and it has stayed solid despite nothing new to look at.  I’m gonna make amends, I promise.  Even if it’s just to share new tracks… because I have a backlog of goodness to get out there.

Social Media Live

You gotta hand it to Kanye– for good and for bad, he never fails to do things his way.  This past week, he decided to put his personal spin on social media strategy.  Instead of leaking tracks of his new album onto Twitter and Facebook, he showed up to the headquarters of each and peformed live.

The videos are pretty funny, as for both it looks like Kanye is rapping in the midst of a collegiate A/V club meeting.  But if you listen close the rhymes sound strong, and if the first track is any indication, I think Kanye’s coming back and re-mixes like this will be on the wane.

Kanye Likes Interruptin People, Munchi

Here’s Kanye at Twitter:

And at Facebook: