We're all just numbers and data turned into cold hard cash …
The music industry is completely lost on what to do next. Right now, it's tossing wet noodles against a wall to see what sticks to the easiest money. In the process, listeners the world over are being jacked out of substance. There's no such thing as fans anymore to most artists, just numbers. The line between art and business is gone.
Recently, the collective niche of anxious followers that spent months in waiting sighed relief when Frank Ocean dropped a visual album titled Endless — a boring, hurried piece of work that didn’t live up to any of the hype that came before it.
How quickly it was forgotten, though, because then came Blonde a few days later, the ‘actual’ album. Upon release, both of the collections were hidden behind a paywall on Apple Music, keeping them locked away from over 350,000,000 Americans — many more millions around the world — for the sole purpose of baiting customers to pay for the company's monthly fee to listen.
If we’re to believe what we’re told, this is good business practice now.
For Frank Ocean, sure, it’s initially lucrative. Reports coming in days after the release claim that by dropping Endless, he satisfied his contract with Def Jam (a label under the umbrella of Universal Music Group, which now wants to ban 'exclusives' altogether), thereby making Ocean an independent artist when releasing Blonde. It’s a brilliant strategy, really, knowing full well the hype was enough to push sales of the second release at least somewhere. He exploited his main demographic’s FOMO, basically.
He also likely worked out a great deal with Apple on how to screw Def Jam and profit the most. This isn’t a bad way to do business, in fact it’s the very definition of business if you think about it: Screw and Earn. He took control of his art back from the majors. In this, Frank Ocean is smart and a winner.
Picture this though: There’s Frank, sitting around with his team figuring out how to make the most money. “Put out some bullshit before the album first,” someone likely brainstormed. “Do whatever, it won’t matter.”
Which is where Endless came in, a piece that many online fans looked and failed to make excuses for. It took the wind right out of the sails perched high for something that was supposed to be the best album of the year. It wasn't, even if it was certainly one of the most anticipated. Blonde won't be either.
The focus for artists now is solely on how to release to make the biggest wake on the Internet, not what to release. That's not art, that's capitalism.
To Ocean’s team, Endless was just a way out, bird seed thrown into the mix to profit the most on what they knew they had. Not only were they likely laughing at the label for missing out, but were probably taking shots at the actual fans, too, knowing full well it didn’t even have to be good for people to ‘like’ it. Psychology took over. It's very possible everyone tricked themselves into justifying its existence. But whatever, right, after a few weeks, the thing will be dead in the water. After the checks are cashed.
See, that’s how he screwed you, the fan. Instead of opting to have the most amount of people experience what he spent years creating in the actual album, he felt like it was necessary to use anything he dropped as a fancy, finely twined lure to get people in Apple’s pocket — a company that profited a historical $53.4 billion in 2015 alone. Because they're also using him. And Drake. And Taylor. And probably Eminem soon, under the guise of wanting to "support artists."
They don't, they want to have a monopoly on streaming, because it's the future.
Pawns in the streaming game. Lures.
As industry analyst Bob Lefsetz puts it in his popular newsletter: "Apple should be investigated by the government for antitrust. The rich get richer and the rest of us…we're left out, just like in America at large … the usual suspects doing it for themselves have rigged the game in their favor, and now the music industry is trying to do this too."
What mega-stars are failing to remember, though, is that there are a lot of Beyonce’s out there, and enough RiRi’s to fill a stadium. Kanye’s days are numbered, too, and maybe even Adele’s, who played the game a different way. It’s not that they won’t continue to be successful, but the new generations have talent, too, and will be the next superstars because they find a different way to deliver their music to as many people as possible. That's the only way music survives, is when people actually listen to it.
Frank fucked up. Hype won’t last past the paywall. It's delusional to think loyalty is going to wait a few weeks every time an artist drops something new. It won't.
Exclusive deals on albums are bad for both the artist and the fans. They create tension. Resentment. Distrust. And in an inter-connected world that can’t keep attention locked for more than a few hours on one topic, it completely misses the mark on what hype is supposed to be. Fans won’t wait.
Nor should they. There’s an ocean of music out there to listen to, with endless possibilities.