Is Frank Ocean Screwing Apple Music (Just Like Chipotle)?

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).

4 Responses

  1. Nicky Knight's thoughts

    Unfortunately everyone who hasn’t been conned with the hype knows that this is a really bad record.. it’s rubbish and I am not the only one who thinks that is the case.

    Unfortunately in my opinion Apple has been very foolish and wasted a lot of money and given away a lot of front page space to this shoddy piece of work..

    It’s the con of the century..

    These are not well thought of and well constructed songs with highly detailed
    state of the art productions.

    It sounds like it was all rushed and put together on a Teac Tascam 4 track
    Portastudio in a caravan sitting out in his back yard..

    People must have totally lost their perspective to have thrown millions of dollars
    at this.. really it shows they haven’t got a clue..

    Of course, it could be me.. maybe I’m just not hearing it.. I just can’t for the life of
    me hear any musical hooks, any decent melodies and any well written or catchy lyrics.. perhaps others can enlighten me with what’s so great about this record..

  2. Nicky Knight's after thoughts...

    I should point out, I knew next to nothing about the artist, his background and the story behind this record..

    The view I have expressed is from someone coming to this record looking for pop hooks, the 3 minute catchy pop song …

    I just went to Wiki and had a quick read up on Frank and I can see there’s a story that goes along with this artist and some interesting players were involved..

    So obviously this record isn’t for people who are looking for a Max Martin type record.. there’s a different thinking that has gone into this.. it may not be for my taste but that’s ok..

    I’m all about the 3 minute hook ridden super catchy pop song and this isn’t one of those records, but for those who are into Frank’s style of music then this might be the bee’s knees of records.

  3. Anonymous

    Universal didn’t release “Blonde”, it was self-released by Frank. But why bother with facts when they undermine your click bait.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      That detail first started surfacing this morning (or maybe last night), and yes, it’s definitely material to this discussion. Keep in mind that Endless was actually part of the deal, so double-releasing is a way to piggyback off of UMG’s marketing spend. Well played Frank!