WINNING WITH WINDOWING: Right on the heels of Drake and Beyoncé’s extremely effective windowing moves with Apple Music and Tidal, respectively, Radiohead ended its streaming holdout but pointedly left Spotify out of the picture and wound up topping the U.S. sales chart last week with 175k. It underscores the fact that the artists are leading the windowing movement, while the majors are now regularly building exclusives into their marketing plans. Because no one yet knows how to maximize the windowing scenario, it’s an ongoing topic at label marketing meetings across the industry, as the majors continue to hammer away at cracking the code. Welcome to the Wild West.
In its overall music strategy, Apple isn’t competing with physical retail; it’s competing with freemium. In this sense, and without actually colluding, Apple, the artists and rights holders have formed a de facto windowing alliance as a countermeasure to Spotify’s two-tiered policy. The primary issue for artists and rights holders is that ad-supported streams pay 80% less than paid streams. Will Spotify ever back off from its all-or-nothing stance? UMG and Sony have theoretical leverage in that they could threaten to pull their catalogs, but it’s unlikely that they’d make good on such a threat—they’re raking in elephant bucks from the dominant streaming service. Daniel Ek and his team may well be feeling the heat, with a drop in free trial users during Q1 and UMG operating on a month-to-month basis. Meanwhile, many argue that the real enemy in the streaming wars isn’t Spotify but YouTube, and recent rumblings have WMG and Sony contemplating pulling their content from the Google-controlled colossus in what would be an important test case.
Tidal’s streaming window is open-ended in the case of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, which bowed with 501k in sales plus another 163k in streaming-equivalent albums on 5/2. Taylor Swift drew up the streaming-strategy blueprint for her 2012 album Red, which was held off all streaming services through its active life, during which it sold 4m+ in the U.S., and perpetuated by Adele last fall with 25. But 25’s singles are on Spotify, which leads us to another tactic that’s gaining steam: employing Spotify—and streaming in general—much as the labels have traditionally used radio. Drake’s whopping sales (855k in its first week) and sales-plus-streaming numbers (1m+) on Views indicate that an artist and label can win by giving Spotify two or three tracks prior to the album’s release and then giving an exclusive on the album to a premium service or services to capitalize on the momentum. The fact that Drake is the #1 artist on Spotify despite Views being an Apple Music exclusive shows how well this bifurcated strategy can work. No wonder it’s rapidly becoming a key element of the superstar album setup. Thus far, the Spotify cabal doesn’t seem to care—indeed, they see the free tier as their own form of radio exposure.
The setup for Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman, projected to sell around 125k in its first week, represents yet another variation. Some pre-release tracks appeared on Spotify, while others were Apple Music exclusives, but the album has gone to all the streaming services, as was Meghan Trainor’s Thank You, which debuted with 83k in sales and 106k SPS. Did they make the right move by not windowing their releases?
This week’s Top 10 SPS bow by unsigned artist Chance the Rapper with an Apple Music streaming exclusive—and no retail whatsoever—is another windowing milestone. With 70% of the revenue presumably going directly to the artist, who negotiated takeover placement across the Apple ecosystem, how many other DIY acts might be incentivized to follow this route?
Apple Music appears to be the big winner at the moment, but Tidal has also gained traction through its exclusives on Beyoncé and Prince, having learned from its missteps with Rihanna and Kanye West, whose disastrous rollouts also negatively impacted UMG’s Q1 earnings.
WHISPERINGS: Bruno Mars’ split with manager Brandon Creed shocked many in the biz, spawning theories about the reasons for the divorce. According to one rumor, after Creed moved his client from WME to CAA in the U.S. (CAA has handled Mars ex-U.S. as well as his film-and-TV activities), WME agent John Marx got to Bruno and pointed out that Creed had received millions for his management company. Will Bruno stay with CAA? In related news, CAA has just signed Kanye.
There’s growing discontent with ASCAP and BMI among publishers and writers over the increasingly corporate leadership of the PROs—ASCAP’s hierarchy is stocked with ex-Viacom execs—their antiquated methodologies, lack of transparency and repeated attempts to get around the Consent Decree. Among the forward-looking alternatives for disillusioned creatives are SESAC and Global Music Rights, created in 2014 by outspoken artist advocate Irving Azoff and ex-ASCAP exec Randy Grimmett.
NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Danny Bennett, Jonathan Schwartz, Joan “Mama” Grande, Larry Jackson, Michele Anthony and March & Mortimer.
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