Let me listen to it: Are music exclusives turning us back to torrenting?

Beyonce’s album is still not available on Spotify. It’s been 6 months. No-one disputes that artists should be allowed to release their music where they want, but they have to realise that if they don’t release music everywhere, then we’ll acquire it via other means. We speak to Spotify users about whether they’ve started torrenting albums yet

The party season is almost upon us, but if you want to elevate your party from ‘just a few family and friends’ to Project X, then you need to start choosing music now. But if you’re going to be DJ-ing a party that closes out 2016, or if you can see a situation arising where your playlists are going to have to go toe to toe with other partygoers, then you might also want to think about getting together an Excel spreadsheet of what music is available on what streaming service.

Image courtesy of Beyonce.com. Above: image courtesy of arvzdix / Shutterstock.com

Image courtesy of Beyonce.com. Above: image courtesy of arvzdix / Shutterstock.com

If you’re planning on playing Beyonce’s Lemonade then you’ll need Tidal; if you want to listen to Taylor Swift then you better have access to Apple Music; but if you’re thinking about listening to anything from Prince’s back catalogue then it’s back to Tidal.

Like many people, I’ve listened to all of these artists, but I’ve not subscribed to separate providers or had to open up separate apps to do it. I’ve taken advantage of alternative resources described by Spotify’s global head of creator services, Troy Carter, who said, in an interview with Billboard, “limiting access to music only incentivises fans to seek it out on pirate sites or YouTube, where it generates less revenue”.

To find out whether exclusive albums offered by Tidal and Apple Music are pushing people back to torrenting, we asked Reddit’s /r/spotify/ group what they think.

The situation was probably best summed up by JeffZorzz, who said: “Every artist knows the cowboy laws of the internet. If you’re going exclusive you know you’re missing out [because people will be] torrenting your shit. Perhaps their exclusive contract offers a great deal, but still it’s ignorant to act otherwise.” Well said, JeffZorzz. Well said.

Are Tidal and Apple right to keep music exclusive?

Since Jay Z purchased Tidal in 2015, I haven’t been the only person to ask: if a record’s only available on Tidal and no-one’s around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Any popularity that Tidal has is pretty much down to exclusive albums. So, what was initially proposed as an artist-owned streaming platform, is essentially maintained by a cabal of some of the music industry’s biggest players.

Tidal has around 4 million subscribers – compared to Spotify’s almost 40 million and Apple Music’s 17 million – and the fact that the service has a mild surge in popularity every time a massive album drops is fooling no-one.

Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal will all be in bidding wars for the best of the best

But some redditors think Tidal’s strategy is justified and here to stay. Alexei_Kovalev_GOAT says: “When TLOP (The Life of Pablo) came out look at how many people signed up for Tidal. Even if most of them quit after the free trial, it was enough to get people to realise that this is a legitimate way to release albums going forward.

“The future of music, at least for the foreseeable future, will be to see which streaming platform big-time artists will use to drop their album ‘exclusively’. Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal will all be in bidding wars for the best of the best. They’re all going to offer exclusives to reel people in.”

There were rumours that Apple Music was considering purchasing Tidal in order to secure the service’s close relationship with a number of high-profile artists. But this would be such a lazy tactic by Apple. Why can’t they improve the service they offer, rather than just putting content behind a paywall? Apple exclusives don’t make up for a shoddy app and the inability to share music with peers.

“I’ve been a Spotify premium user for a few years now,” says kermagod. “When Apple Music had some exclusives I wanted to listen to I signed up for a free trial. I paid for about 3 or 4 months after my trial expired, but the Android app was awful so I cancelled. Plus, I didn’t need to pay for two music subscriptions. Now my stance is if it’s not on Spotify I won’t listen. I haven’t heard the latest Beyonce album.”

Think of the artists

The reason for writing this article isn’t just because I’m a disgruntled fan who can’t get hold of Beyonce’s latest record. Pushing people back to torrenting isn’t good for artists either.

record-ssIn August, Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group, sent out a directive that appeared to order the company’s labels to stop the practice of making “exclusive” distribution deals with streaming services to discourage artists from “enter[ing] the marketplace with one hand tied behind your back”.

According to Bob Lefsetz, author of influential music industry newsletter Lefsetz Letter, Grainge said: “Most people don’t give a crap about the new Frank Ocean album. We’ve got an industry that promotes marginal products that appeal to few and makes them unavailable to most people? That’s hysterical!”

Grainge’s reservations probably have something to do with the fact that music labels could become obsolete if artists like Frank Ocean can engage directly with streaming services. But Reddit’s users agree that as well as not being good for music fans, online exclusivity deals are no good for artists, and lead people to use torrent sites.

We’ve got an industry that promotes marginal products that appeal to few and makes them unavailable to most people? That’s hysterical!

“If artists want to act like hobos and sell their albums out of the trunk of their cars then more power to them. However if they want to give their fans a wide swath of streaming options then it is only going to be beneficial to their exposure,” says Third_Planet.

“Musicians can do as they please as it is their intellectual property. However, as a consumer, I don’t listen to artists not available on Spotify and I go out of my way to avoid listening to, promoting or caring about artists wrapped up in exclusivity deals,” says LifeinParalysis. “If I really love an artist, I will support them by buying an album and merchandise, but I won’t subscribe to multiple streaming services.”

“I agree artists should be able to make their music available wherever they want. I haven’t had an issue in the past with an album not being available except for one time, which was for Frank Ocean’s new album. It was hyped, yet it wasn’t available on Spotify, so I will admit I torrented it,” says BlackSapper.

Buying music

While some people have been pushed back into torrenting thanks to the increasing number of exclusive album deals, other have chosen to go old-school and just buy records that aren’t available to stream. And by ‘buy records’ I mean that they purchase digital tracks rather than actually going to a store and picking up a record. Because, let’s face it, no-one does that anymore.

Most of the time I won’t listen to it if it’s not on Spotify

“Most of the time I won’t listen to it if it’s not on Spotify. That said there’s only ever been one artist’s album not on Spotify that I’ve been bothered about. In that case I actually purchased the album because I’m a big fan of the band,” says Junglebreath.

“When, say one streaming service has one exclusive album you really want, you might as well buy the album rather than spend a single monthly fee for the service. The cost evens out at around $10 anyway,” says LILMACDEMON.

Not everyone is burdened by their own integrity and feels compelled to buy music rather than torrent it. Nielsen revealed in its Mid-Year Music Report that purchasing digital tracks is down 24%, while purchasing digital albums is down 18% compared to 2015.

ftr_1611_feature-footerBut despite the drop in numbers, people aren’t listening to less music, so they will find another way, and if you’re keeping your music off the most popular streaming site then expect it to get stolen. A lot. Beyonce’s Lemonade topped the torrenting charts, as well as the actual charts, when it was released in April. If artists continue to put limits on their music’s availability then don’t expect that to be the last time it happens.

In the face of a collapsing market, Acer goes once more unto the smartwatch breach

Despite the fact that smartwatches are generally seeing their sales plummet, Acer has decided to release a new product into the collapsing market. Taking “an elegant approach to fitness”, the Leap Ware smartwatch seems to be fairly standard fare, using an array of fitness-tracking sensors in combination with an app to keep tabs on all of the various statistics the sensors provide.

“As the pace of modern lifestyles become ever more hectic, people demand technology that can keep them on track and motivated to pursue their goals,” said MH Wang, general manager of Smart Device Products in Acer’s IT Products Business.

“The new Acer Leap Ware is designed to act as a virtual coach to help people go, track, and share, sending them reminders and alerts when they need them the most.”

Acer obviously has to promote its product but the above statement seems somewhat bizarrely unaware of the fact that not only is the company offering pretty much the exact same thing every other smartwatch does, but is are doing so in a market that is dying a fairly nasty death. With big names like Pebble going under, and Fitbit’s stock having been on a steady decline, the persistence in putting out new products is a bold move.

In October 2016, the BBC wrote about a new report by market analysts IDC that showed amartwatch shipments declined by 51.6% year-on-year. The Apple Watch held its place as the market leader, but shipped only a quarter of the units it had sold in the same period (July-September) of 2015. And of the five leading brands, only Garmin showed growth with that growth still being underpinned by low figures.

“It has become evident that, at present, smartwatches are not for everyone,” said Jitesh Ubrani from IDC. “Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity.”

Images courtesy of Acer

It was pointed out by experts that the period examined was before new versions were released, but there is still a clear lack in significant consumer appetite. The market has largely survived off the fitness aspects, with other products largely falling by the wayside as the novelty wears off. And Acer itself hasn’t exactly been the premium forerunner.

The Leap Ware watch certainly seems a perfectly fine entry into the marketplace. It’s got “diverse fitness tracking features thanks to an array of sensors with advanced algorithms” and supposedly has a battery life of three to five days so you don’t miss out on logging those all-important stats. My watch only tells the time and date. It also has a battery life of ten years.

There is a reasonable chance that initial sales for the Leap Ware may be strong, being all shiny and new as it is. There’s also a very good chance they will quickly plummet as Acer discovers what consumers are desperately trying to tell them: people don’t want smartwatches anymore.

For more information and discussion of the collapse of wearable technology, check out the latest issue of Factor magazine.

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