After a monthlong teaser campaign involving no less than five advance video clips, Jay-Z’s new album “4:44” finally dropped, three minutes before its scheduled release at midnight ET on June 30. The advance ads pledged that the album will be a Tidal/ Sprint exclusive, as part of the carrier’s $200 million deal with he Jay Z-owned streaming service. But in a twist that was met with an angry reaction from many fans, only people who signed up for Tidal before the album’s release and current Sprint users will be able to access it, at least for now.
However, that’s not the only place you can hear it (legally, anyway).
Upon its release, the 10-track album streamed on iHeartRadio across 160 Pop, Rhythm and Urban radio stations in the U.S., and fans will be able to hear the entire album on Urban and Rhythm formats throughout the day until midnight ET on July 1. iHeart also featured exclusive audio from Jay Z discussing the album. (Variety will post a review of the album on Friday morning.)
A source tells Variety that the album will be available on Apple Music after a week of exclusivity on Tidal, and it seems very likely that it will be available on iTunes as well; another source says it will be available on all major services. It also seems inevitable that “4:44” will also be available on CD and vinyl at some point. Jay-Z pulled his catalog, with a handful of exceptions, from Spotify and Apple Music in April. Reps for Tidal, Apple Music and Spotify declined or did not respond to Variety’s request for comment.
The exclusive epidemic of 2014-16 has largely abated, as the realization crept in that the only winners in that arms race were the streaming service with the exclusive and the artist and/or label who pocketed whatever benefits came with it. Spotify never joined in the exclusive wars — as the established market leaders, they didn’t need to — and Apple Music recently has focused more on its burgeoning video service and premieres on its Beats 1 radio station. A key turning point came last August when Frank Ocean delivered an uneven album called “Endless” to finish off his contract with Def Jam, only to release “Blonde,” a much more satisfying album, via Apple Music just two days later. The act inspired Lucian Grainge, chairman/CEO of Def Jam’s parent Universal Music Group, to ban exclusives by the company’s artists.
But Tidal has doubled down on them — according to reports, $75 million of the Sprint deal is dedicated to exclusives — with limited success. For around 18 months, Prince’s catalog was available exclusively on the service — a situation that ended in February — and Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo,” which was marred by a baffling release strategy that was apparently directed by the artist himself, was a Tidal exclusive for a few weeks before it suddenly appeared on other services. In April Jay-Z pulled nearly his entire catalog (with a handful of exceptions) from Spotify and Apple Music.
The most famous example, of course, is “Lemonade,” which Beyonce has kept faithfully exclusive on her husband’s streaming service since its release on April 23, 2016 — to its detriment, at least chart-wise. In Nielsen Music’s year-end report for 2016 — which combines physical sales, track-equivalent units (TEA, whereby 10 song downloads equal one album) and streaming equivalent units (SEA, where 1,500 on-demand streams equal one album) — Drake’s “Views,” the year’s top album, and “Lemonade,” No. 3, were not dramatically far apart in two of the categories: physical (1.607 million for Drake vs. 1.554 million for Beyonce) and TEA (Drake’s 509,000 to Beyonce’s 418,000).
But streaming showed a vast difference: 2.024 million units for Drake compared with 214,000 for Beyonce. Nearly 10 times more streams — than Beyonce.
The discrepancy is not surprising. Earlier this month, Spotify claimed to have reached 140 million users worldwide; in March it said 50 million of them were paying subscribers. Also in June, Apple Music said it had passed 27 million paying subscribers. In March of last year Tidal claimed to have 3 million subscribers, but a January report in a Norwegian newspaper, citing internal company documents, said that as of January 2016 it had just 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 paying subscribers.
While the Beyonce and West exclusives probably boosted the service’s numbers, it remains far behind its chief competitors — a situation that “4:44” seems unlikely to change significantly. But this strategy, if accurate, means Jay gets to have it both ways: A splash and a big payday deal for the exclusive, followed by conventional streaming and physical releases at a time of his choosing. And if he sacrifices a No. 1 album in the process, he’s still done a great job of looking out for Number One.