Pictured: Google Drive containing Frank Ocean’s latest album, Blond. As of Tuesday, the folder remains live, despite being reported on Sunday by Digital Music News.
Apple Music pays millions for exclusive releases. Did Frank Ocean and Universal Music take the money and run?
Last week, Frank Ocean released two major albums, both secured by Apple as exclusives in exchange for massive, upfront payments. Those payments are rumored to be in the millions, with Apple calculating that it will make that money back by signing up more Apple Music subscribers (and luring people away from Spotify).
The only problem is that both Frank Ocean albums are now appearing everywhere, outside of Apple Music and completely free. Blond, the second album released on Friday, is now available on both Google Drive and SoundCloud, both companies that have every interest in seeing Apple Music fail.
But that’s just the start: both Blond and Endless (Frank’s first release) are littered all over the web, as torrents, shared Dropbox folders, or web-based downloads, with little-to-no policing appearing to take place.
Ocean and his label, Universal Music Group, are major copyright owners of both albums. So why aren’t they doing more to take down obviously infringing copies from obvious places like Google Drive? The answer, unfortunately for Apple, seems to be that they don’t want to. Instead, it now appears that Ocean is taking the money while allowing his albums to leak everywhere, while gaining the upside that comes from full-blown access and exposure.
That’s a fantastic deal for Ocean, who keeps feeding his fanbase while ensuring greater downstream concert sales, merchandise sales, and other long-term revenue gains. And, a big fat check from Apple Music, who seems to be the big fat loser in all of this.
Meanwhile, it now appears that Universal Music Group, parent label group for Ocean’s Def Jam Records, is suddenly taking a huge step back from exclusives. And, assisting Ocean in the dupe. “Lucian Grainge sent out an email to Universal executives today ending all future exclusives with Universal artists,” industry critic Bob Lefsetz alerted last night. Lefsetz, the wry insider whose opinions are daily fodder for thousands of industry folk, is often dialed into insider label happenings.
Lefsetz mentions ‘future’ releases, though it looks like Ocean’s latest current releases are effectively getting roped into the new initiative. Effectively, UMG appears to be doing zero work to police its own copyrights and protect Apple’s exclusive, despite the massive upfront payment and commitments (explicit or otherwise) to help Apple protect that exclusive.
This wouldn’t be the first time Ocean has screwed a major partner while effectively stealing their money. Back in 2014, Ocean cashed a check from Chipotle for $212,500, with plans to record a cover of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” for a creative spot. After Ocean decided he hated the spot (and in particular Chipotle’s branding the spot), he reneged on the deal and refused to return the amount.
Chipotle was forced to sue the artist to recover the money, after which Ocean agreed to return the amount. The memo on the check, posted above, said ‘FUCK OFF,’ a sentiment that now seems to be directed at Apple Music.
More as this develops…
Screw image on cover by Jane Dickson, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0).