R&B crooner / Former Odd Future member Frank Ocean pulled another game changer with the release of his album(s). After years of silence and teasing about a new release, Frank Ocean released what he called his next album- or so we thought- Endless– as a visual – all video album on streaming services. While the world indulged on his latest collection, a couple days later, another, the real “official” album, Blonde, was released on Apple Music exclusively. The catch- Endless was considered part of his original distribution agreement. Blonde was all his- and Apple. His former parent company Universal was not happy about this at all, feeling they had just been blindsided, issuing a new mandate prohibiting the release of any album exclusives to a streaming service moving forward for any of their releases.
Jay-Z wasn’t joking when he deemed the internet as the wild west. Just when you thought you have seen all of the potential ground shaking moves take place in the music industry when it comes to digital music releases here comes another from left field. Frank Ocean’s career has been surrounded in controversy since he launched as a member of Odd Future, and that controversy has mostly to do with just doing things against the norm. Whether it was Odd Future’s antics, or his bi-sexuality being revealed both in his personal life and music on his solo debut, it was always something. So in some ways, when it came to a follow up, we expected something different, something possibly controversial- but I doubt many expected this.
When Endless dropped, it was like, okay, that’s different. You would expect that from Frank. And that was it. New age, new music, all video- cool. But then to, behind the scenes, strategically plan to take the ammunition that was placed behind Endless to get the awareness out about his new material and him being officially back on the scene, and ride that wave to help push his OFFICIAL new album- oh that was genius. So basically, he recorded two albums off someone else’s dime, kept the tracks that were his favorite to himself, and convinced the label that the material that made Endless was THE album- and they bought it. They pushed it. They let him out his contract (which clearly had no restriction on when he could release new music after the release of the previous), and days later, he drops the album they also helped pay for, and ride the promotion they helped pay for as well. I mean wow. Now look, I’m not writing this as a way to take sides because I’m not, but I really just want to put this in perspective for the readers of this post and why the label itself is so upset to the point it issued a blanket mandate across all of its hundreds of artists. I would be pissed too if I was them- and feel like a fool. At the same time, that tends to typically be because the tables are usually reversed, where the artists are the ones you hear about being upset for being taken advantage of. But they can thank one of their own for this- which is what makes Apple’s purchase of Beats such a great investment.
Jimmy Iovine helped revolutionize the music world for decades and is one of the masters of the business. There are only a few who would know how to take what worked in the past, understand the gaps and how to take advantage of them, and make it make sense for the digital world- even if it is to the disadvantage of the traditional industry he came from. Now, there is no proof he was directly tied to this deal coming out how it did, but I cannot imagine him not having some influence on it. It was definitely on some next level thinking, and that is what he is all about.
So then you have Apple. Technically, in this case, just a streaming service- but after this incident, can they really be considered only that? Frank Ocean released his Blonde album in collaboration with his own label and Apple Music. So wouldn’t that make his label the content development house and Apple Music the distributor? In other words, he left Universal and went to Apple? For me, I have no other way of seeing this- they in essence now opened the door to do distribution deals with artist directly. It was tested before with much success before with groups like U2 and Drake– and on Tidal with Kanye and Beyonce– but this is different. In those cases, their original parent labels were still their distribution labels as well. In Frank’s case, that distribution label was cut out. 2 parties instead of 3. How many other artists do you think would be interested in a deal like this? So again, it ask the question- what does that make Apple or service like it in the future? They could technically at some point have their own bank of artists releasing music exclusively on their platform. And unlike a Universal or Sony, they own the distribution platforms- they do not have to reach out to a Brick or Mortar store, or a digital distribution pipeline- they have their own- and it’s profitable from the get go. This is huge. And with Frank Ocean’s move, it just showed how possible this is to the world. So the Universal’s of the world are right to be suspect moving forward, and artists need to be more mindful of these opportunities available to them now.
For someone like myself, it only begs the question why a company like Universal with all of the labels and sub labels and fans it has for each did not decide to launch their own streaming platform and really push it after they saw the potential that Napster offered instead of spending more time and money trying to fight off the inevitable. Truth is they have the content, or did, and could have been the ones to do it. Or at least worked with some other labels and pulled a Hulu where they all went in as partners. Another major opportunity missed. And now the ramifications are being seen even more. Because they need artists. They need new ones so they cannot just stop signing new artists. And they need and rely on the distribution chains that companies such as Apple, Spotify, and Tidal offer- so they can’t axe them out the picture. At this point, if they tried to go rogue, they would lose too much money, plus run the risk of those same companies refusing to let their music play on their platforms.
No, at this point, they rely on those streaming services as much as the streaming services have relied on them. I say that in the past tense because that is the true genius behind what Frank did. He took Jay-Z’s Tidal aspirations and showed what could happen if you get the support of a behemoth company with the reach and money of Apple, and provided a blueprint on how to pimp the traditional music industry to your advantage. So ultimately the record distribution industry needs the tech and artists more than either need it, and Frank is an example of the potential future of what that looks like. Well played.
The Overall Meal
Do you think that other artists signed to major distribution companies will follow suit, or do you think it will be impossible for that to happen now?
Please place your response below.
Let the convos begin!