Jay Z and the Exclusive Content Myth

Pasted_Image_5_13_15__10_54_AM“The tide is high, but I’m holding on
I’m gonna be your number one…”
(John Holt)

The tide was high last week when Jay Z launched his new (=recently acquired) music streaming service Tidal. ICYMI, Jay Z – superstar producer, entrepreneur, billionaire, Beyonce’s husband – acquired Swedish music company Aspiro for $56 Million 3 months ago with hopes of challenging Spotify and taking the streaming music market by a storm.

However when the tide went out,  there seemed to not be much under the Tidal hood but a £20 a month price tag. Yes, there was this noble vision of giving more revenue back to the artists, and the promise of lossless streaming (won’t even get into this one…), but at the end of the day – how does Jay Z plan to justify the pricey subscription fee and beat the competition?  Exclusive content.

Yep, you heard it right – exclusive content. The same weapon that every Spotify rival has tried before, including the exclusive content masterminds of Apple, the clever folks at YouTube/Google and many others. Has any service won on exclusive content?  No!

Has anyone joined Tidal because Beyonce released her new song exclusively there?  I seriously doubt that.  Has anyone left Spotify for the competition becauseTaylor Swift took her catalog off the service?  A few fans maybe.  Has anyone bought an iPhone to get U2’s latest album for free?  Pffff.   You see, the harsh truth is that there is no such thing as exclusive content, and that with a practically limitless catalog no one really cares about a little exclusivity here and there.

It’s 2015, folks. Every song, by any artist, is available to stream and/or download online within seconds for the average Google-using Joe. Artists have pretty much given up the fight against piracy, and are actively trying to use it for their own benefit (promote their music, grow their fan base, etc.). You can’t really keep anything exclusive once it goes online, and – as Madonna recently learned – many times even before that.

And if something is exclusive, do we really care?  3 years ago Andy Baid compared two of my favorite streaming services, Spotify and Rdio, by their content. He found out, for instance, that Rdio had 12 Bob Dylan albums streaming exclusively (at least back then), while Spotify had 3 from Underworld and 3 from Katatonia. Would that make anyone leave their favorite music service, forget their listening habits, let go of their valuable playlists, playing history, friends?   Maybe some die hard Dylan fan would, but not the majority of users. In fact, I argue that as most people stream only the most popular songs anyway, the majority of subscribers won’t even notice that this or that album is missing.

Hence the need for PR. “Beyonce is streaming exclusively” is a perfect title for a marketing campaign, but other than the entertainment press, no one cares. Because everyone is streaming it already on YouTube, and because it’s simply not enough for me to leave my trusted music service, with its mobile app that I love, and social graph I have built. You want to take your content off my music service?  Well, go ahead. I’ll just look for it elsewhere (if I will look for it at all).

Newsflash: If you’re a music artist in 2015, you need to be everywhere. On every service. In every device. Madonna, who can teach marketing classes to many of the young and inspiring music stars of this day, just released her new music video,Ghosttown, on live video sensation Meerkat as well as old school VEVO, on Jimmy Fallon and on Tidal, and of course on YouTube. Wherever you are, whatever you’re using to listen to music, Madonna will play it for you. Because Madonna knows exclusive content is a myth.

And it’s time to say it out loud, even if it puts us users in a kind of a shady light. Spotify and Netflix have proven that many of us will pay a reasonable monthly subscription fee to get all the content we want. But they’ve also proven that most of us will consume the content we want, even if it is missing on these “legit” services, in any way possible, each according to his own skills, and we won’t hold for anyone. Not even for Beyonce.

“Drink in your summer, gather your corn
The dreams of the night time will vanish by dawn
And time waits for no one…”
(Mick Jagger)

Headline photo by Photosteve101.
Thanks to my good friend Yael Beeri for going over this post and making sense out of it.

Like All Good Things The Greatest Hits Take Time

I really need to thank Joel for this – this blog post and this blog (comeback?). His great blogging and amazing content curation have got me back to blogging. Specifically a post by Adii Pienaar titled “The Greatest Hits Are Obvoius“. You know – music, technology… who can resist that?!

Adii writes about how some songs have obvious hit qualities, and how our mind makes a decision that a song is a hit before you can logically and objectively come to the same conclusion.

He himself is puzzled with the conclusion, but still notes that “the greatest hits were obvious“. More specifically (and after explaining the relation between working on a song and working on a startup):

Great ideas remain great ideas. And the greatest ideas are obviously great at first sight.


A Few Tiny, Perfect Examples That Will Blow Your Mind

As a music buff, let me start off with a few well-known examples*:

#1: The Blowers’ Daughter by Damien Rice

In 2001 a young Irish musician called Damien Rice released a song called “The Blower’s Daughter”. The song made the top 40 chart, but didn’t become a great hit.
Over the next year Rice continued to record his debut album, O. Released in 2002, the album was quite successful, as the songs “Cannonball” and “Volcano” becoming hits in the UK.In 2004 “The Blower’s Daughter” was included in “Closer“, a Mike Nichols box office hit. The rest is history.

#2: Perfect Day by Lou Reed

Originally recorded in 1972, and featured on Lou Reed’s album Transformer, “Perfect Day” remained hidden from the public eye for almost 25 years, until it was featured on the 1996 classic “Trainspotting”, and blasted through the roof with record sales, cover versions and fame.

#3: Tiny Dancer by Elton John

Released originally in 1971, “Tiny Dancer” appeared on Elton John’s 4th album, “Madman Across The Water”. It was released as a single in 1972, but reached only #41 on the U.S pop chart, and so was not even released in the UK.
The song slowly became popular, mainly due to air time on adult contemporary and rock radio stations, and finally received its break on the 2000 Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous”.
It finally reached Gold in 2005, and Platinum in 2011. It is now one of Elton John’s most famous and well-recognized hits.


So Are Greatest Hits Obvious?

Well, some hits are obvious. But as a music lover I would have to say that most of the songs that have remained with me for a long time seem to be songs that took time to grow on me. And those monster hits, you know the ones – those who rise straight to #1 and stay there for a few weeks – well, most of the time I grow tired of them just as quickly.

As a music critic I know of a few cases where I missed a great song, album even, in real-time. In fact that is the main reason I decided not to write about an album (or song) the same day (or even week) I get it, and I forced myself to listen to it for a while before expressing my opinion on it.

Some great ideas, great songs, great albums remain great. Some of the greatest ideas/songs/albums are obviously great from first sight (or listen). But there are too many cases where intuition is not right, cases where it takes time to fully understand and decipher the magic, that I have learned not to pass judgment too early in the game.


OK, Enough About Music. What About Startups?

As Adii well noted – same thing. Some of the greatest hits were obvious. Angry Birds, for instance. But some have disappeared just as quickly as they sky rocketed. Anyone wants to play Draw Something?

And those “obvious” hits, which wowed me at first, like Path for instance, or Google+, have been abandoned by me along the way, with all due respect to their great ideas and execution.

Other services, less obvious at first, became my 2nd nature. Like Twitter, for example. I would love to say that as soon as I joined (2008) I got it and fell in love with it, but that is not true. It grew on me. Instagram?  Same story for me.  Evernote?  Took even longer, but now I can’t live without it.

So you see – I’m grateful to have learned patience, and to allow new ideas to take their time. And as someone who has been working full time for a long time now on my own disruptive startup, I remind myself that every time I look at the metrics, and – just like Adii – wonder.

Intuition is important. I myself give it a lot of credit, too much even. But you owe yourself, and those great ideas, to wait a little and let your intuition do its magic – not just at first sight, or first experience, but also after the fifth or tenth time.

Do people spend the time to appreciate ideas that take a while to grow on you?  I am not sure. We’ve grown to be impatient, and as such we miss a lot of great hits just because they are not obvious. I hope we won’t regret it. I know I have, at least a few times.


* I thank Boaz Cohen for his help with the examples.