August 31, 2016

MALPASS | Industry Exclusivity

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I suppose you could consider me a Frank Ocean fan. I listen casually, although despite my deep love for “Pyramids” and “Thinkin Bout You” I found the rest of Channel Orange to be a little uninteresting and as far as emotional, slow R&B singers go I prefer Blood Orange. However, half my roommates hate him and if there’s any better reason to pretend like he’s the second coming I don’t know what it is. And to be perfectly honest, I love a good obsession and Frank’s fan base did not disappoint. Watching the various Frank Ocean forums slowly go devolve to desperation was truly a pleasure. I won’t lie; I let myself get swept up in the hype. I eagerly awaited the album on each of the rumored days and complained when it inevitably wasn’t. Of course, I didn’t actually post anything online; I’m convinced that sort of behavior is the mark of a troubled mind or a cry for help. But waiting became a game, seeing how long the hype could hold until I and the collective fanbase gave up. And then, after all this waiting, on August 20 it dropped.

What was my reaction to this fateful moment, this album so many years in the making? Couldn’t tell you, because it was an Apple Music exclusive and I am not a subscriber. So, I suppose the only feeling I had was one of mild disappointment and a little irritation. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised; this sort of behavior from the music industry is becoming increasingly common, Kanye’s The Life of Pablo exclusive on Jay-Z’s Tidal service being another notorious example.

To be frank, (pun absolutely intended) I can’t stand streaming exclusives. There is not a whole lot more frustrating than waiting and waiting for an album to be released, only to find out that you cannot listen to it because you haven’t paid Apple its monthly blood tithe.

Now sure, you could chalk this up to “millennial entitlement;” after all, any one of us could simply buy the album. And while I always recommend purchasing CD or lossless download, I’m concerned what this means for the streaming services that have become such a large part of our lives. Right now exclusivity is widely a temporary condition; after a month or so the album usually becomes available at all usual sites. But how long until it doesn’t? It may seem strange to imagine a world in which the only way to listen to the latest T-Swift is through Apple Music, but looking at the television industry, it does not seem so far off. After all, how many (legal) sites can you watch House of Cards on? Exactly one: Netflix.

And much as it distresses me to admit, the CD may one day go the way of the 8-track. According to the New York Times, CD sales have plummeted 84 percent in the past decade.  What may be even more surprising is that downloads aren’t faring much better. And with all due respect, no matter what Urban Outfitters leads us to believe, the vinyl record is not going to make any significant comeback beyond anything we’ve already seen.

Will streaming replace all other forms of music distribution anytime soon? I don’t think so, but I suspect it will become the main way we consume music. However, we should ensure exclusivity does not come along with it, because it will force you to subscribe to multiple, and in my opinion pricy streaming services. Sure, both Views and Blonde inevitably lost their exclusive status, but if streaming does become the only practical way to listen to music, what’s to stop Apple Music and Tidal from holding on to the rights to these albums indefinitely? I can understand paying for one of these services, but not all of them. As this practice becomes more common, so too will the number of streaming services rise. In fact, I’m shocked Amazon has pulled an exclusive deal yet.

On a more sentimental level, I refuse to pay for exclusive services because it goes against what I believe makes music remarkable. I firmly believe it is our most important art form, simply because it requires no training or experience to enjoy. It can even be appreciated in different languages or with no words at all. It is ubiquitous and highly accessible, yet can still evoke profound and complex emotions. It is really the perfect art form. Music exclusivity kills that, because if this trend continues, soon consuming music will become like purchasing a cable plan. Then it’s only a matter of time before advertisements are added in, regardless if the service is paid for or not. It happened in TV, we shouldn’t believe that it couldn’t happen in music too.

Soren Malpass is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at skm94@cornell.edu. Sorenity Now appears alternate Thursdays this ­semester.

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