In an increasingly tough consumer market, even successful artists like Beyoncé are looking beyond traditional album release methods for new ways to maximize their sales and limit free consumer access. Although album release dates are normally announced months in advance and accompanied by a heavy marketing campaign and wide release, the latest trend has artists shifting towards a more limited initial release technique called “windowing.” This new windowing strategy involves the practice of briefly restricting new album sales to specific online outlets before opening to a wider release across multiple sites. This past weekend’s surprise release of Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade, is a prime example of how windowing may be the industry’s new approach to combating music piracy. Instead of releasing new albums to platforms consumers can use to share files, artists are increasingly opting for more exclusive releases to boost their initial sales.
For instance, before expanding her album release to iTunes and Amazon, Beyoncé initially released her hotly anticipated new album exclusively for 24 hours on Tidal, a paid-subscription streaming app, while simultaneously airing a “visual” version of her album in an hour-long HBO special. Now number one on the iTunes album chart, eight of the top ten most downloaded songs are from Lemonade. Sales projections estimate that the album is likely to go gold within a week, with first-day sales estimated to hit 200,000 units. As a side effect, Tidal has gained increased exposure, becoming the most downloaded music app in the U.S.
The success of this release, coupled with the exclusion of Spotify, Pandora, and other ad-supported streaming services, follows in the footsteps of other artists using the windowing technique. Artists like Adele, Rihanna, Kanye West, and Drake have all recently employed this strategy, resulting in a massive boost in sales. Touted as a more artist-friendly streaming outlet, Tidal is also the only service of its kind to house Prince’s most popular music, sales of which have also increased since his death last week. The success of Tidal illustrates how the streaming field may be changing. After all, by making new albums available for legal download in an exclusive manner, fans are more likely to pay to hear it if they think that is the only way to hear the music.
However, there may be some risks to the windowing method. For instance, reports say that Lemonade instantly became one of the most pirated albums on torrent sites like The Pirate Bay, similar to the surge in piracy over Kanye West’s latest album release of The Life of Pablo (another Tidal exclusive). Furthermore, it can be confusing to consumers who are simply trying to find all the music they want on one platform. Listeners may not want to subscribe to a new streaming service, and artists risk angering their fan base by making their music less accessible. For instance, one fan recently filed a lawsuit against Kanye West saying the rapper tricked him into subscribing to Tidal by claiming The Life of Pablo would be exclusive. Although it remains to be seen how big a spike in paid consumer subscriptions Tidal will gain, the general increase in music subscription services is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Natasha Gill is an associate in the Entertainment Law Department, resident in the Los Angeles (Century City) office.