Frank Ocean’s new album is another indicator of the new model for big-name releases
The wait is over. Four years after he released Channel Orange and set hearts aflutter, Frank Ocean finally releases his new album Boys Don’t Cry on Friday. The kink in the fabric? It’s going to be an Apple Music exclusive.
We’ll come to that piece of business in a few beats, but the use of the word “finally” deserves a paragraph or two of its own. In the scheme of things, four years isn’t really that long to be waiting for someone to release some music.
It takes time for the artistic juices to flow. It takes time for an artist to find their muse. It takes time for a Black Messiah to come together or for the Stone Roses to write some more decent tunes (we’re still waiting for that, by the way).
But in the super-accelerated world of today, a world where artists are releasing new tracks every month and a campaign will have new releases stacked up for the next year, four years is an eternity. Ocean’s stature has just grown and grown during the interim with just a few releases and collaborations out there for fans to savour and get excited about.
While the scarcity of material has helped to burnish Ocean’s status and renown (less is more after all), word about the new album has been circulating for the past two years. Every new piece of information became another news story and, while there’s been little or no new music in the last four years, it often feels as if Ocean has been ubiquitous despite the lack of activity. No one predicted that Boys
Don’t Cry would appear eventually as an Apple Music exclusive, though few will be surprised by this. In the streaming market, exclusives are the way for the big beasts to gain a competitive advantage.
Whether it’s Drake’s Views, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo or Chance the Rapper’s Coloring
Book, the streaming giants believe that exclusivity means fans will sign up for their service in order to hear the album first – and there’s plenty of evidence to back this up.
In many ways, the streaming services are already acting like record labels, albeit labels who are taking a leaf from the Real Madrid playbook. Instead of working with and developing new acts like traditional record labels, the galactico approach favours working with proven talent who already have huge audiences and fanbases. It might cost you more, but you’ve a guarantee that the fans will follow the act to the streaming service.
The record label model is something that streaming services are increasingly considering. At a recent Banter discussion on music streaming, Deezer’s UK and Ireland managing director Christian Harris mused about such possibilities.
“We’re just trying to figure out how to serve our audiences the best we can,” Harris said. “If the labels are doing their job, we can do that, but if they’re not we have to find ways to do it ourselves and portfolio content is one angle.”
For the labels who originally signed acts like Drake, Beyoncé et al, streaming services paying for exclusives is probably a decent enough proposition right now because of the cashflow. However, it will become a far different matter if the quest for deals means they could be outbid and outmuscled.
The winners in all of this will, of course, be those acts who can leverage their label-developed pull for lucrative terms elsewhere and still maintain a lot of control. Think of that when you fire up Apple Music to listen to Boys Don’t Cry.
The winners in all of this will, of course, be those acts who can leverage their label-developed pull for lucrative terms elsewhere and still maintain a lot of control