Listen to This: Streaming-exclusive releases hurt both listeners and musicians

Music exclusive to certain sites only results in frustration and illegal downloads.
Courtesy of Asterio Tecson

It’s been almost two months since Beyoncé blessed the world by dropping “Formation”. Unfortunately for me and my fellow music lovers who don’t have a Tidal membership, there’s no way to own this single. My only savior was the YouTube music video. I’m not a fan of illegally downloading music, but I’m not surprised others did to have the song without going through Tidal.

This same conundrum occurred to me in December when Taylor Swift released her “1989 World Tour Live” film solely on Apple Music. I didn’t have the funds to actually go to this tour, but I sure do have the money to buy a DVD of her performances. However, that wasn’t an option presented to me.

I know the obvious counterargument is to use the free trials for these streaming services. But I’m not a fan of putting my financial information into a website even if I set 50 alarms to make sure I cancel my trial before I get charged. This is part of the reason I’m opposed to streaming-specific music releases. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be given the option to exchange my money to own a certain song or video. I’d rather pay Beyoncé the typical iTunes song price of $1.29 (or more, to be honest — I really like “Formation”) than sign up for a trial at a streaming service to get a free download.

Artists like Beyoncé and Kanye West, who recently debuted his album “The Life of Pablo” on Tidal only before releasing it elsewhere, chose to be Tidal-specific because they are part-owners of the site. While these releases did encourage many people to sign up for Tidal, there is a huge downside for artists when it comes to streaming-specific releases: It doesn’t take much to push people to torrenting or downloading illegally.

It’s not a crime that’s enforced to a point where people are scared to do it, and it’s not difficult. When West debuted “The Life of Pablo” exclusively on Tidal, practically every rap listener I heard discuss it had opted to torrent the album. This was an album that if presented to them with a $17 price tag, they would’ve quickly forked over the funds. NPR reported that the album “spark[ed] rampant piracy.”

On the other hand, I definitely understand musicians who choose to not put their music on streaming services. I also love to listen to a newly-released album on Spotify without having to pay a dime, but I support Taylor Swift, Adele and artists like them who chose to leave some of their releases off of the wildly popular streaming service. Swift was branded “greedy” for taking her music off Spotify and publishing a public letter to Apple Music that criticized its lack of artist compensation for its free trial periods. Wanting proper payment for one’s work is not greedy. Artists on Spotify get paid (on average) less than a cent per play. According to an infographic from The Guardian, only 2 percent of Spotify artists reach minimum wage via Spotify alone.

While purchase-only releases can be frustrating for broke college students, they allow artists to stand up for the compensation they deserve for their work. Streaming-only releases are much worse, providing major downsides for both artists and consumers, from cutting off potential buyers from being able to purchase a product to encouraging illegal downloading.

Beyoncé, if by some miracle you are reading this, please don’t release your next album exclusively on Tidal. Call me old school, but I want to hold the physical CD in my hand and have pure ownership over an album I purchased with my money. Plus, it might be my only chance to actually own “Formation.”

Edited by Katherine Rosso |

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