Restricted Access Albums: A worrying trend


These days more than ever music is all about business. Less about the art and more about the money, which has sadly gotten far worse since the advent of streaming services. A world where all music is readily available to everyone at the touch of a button is a music mogul’s worst nightmare. As such the industry has been coming up with more and more nefarious ways to squeeze some extra pennies out of us, the latest of which involves making albums only available to an exclusive group.

Spotify is the foremost streaming service as it is the only one that offers a free plan. No monthly subscription, just the occasional advert (less often than you would get with most radio stations). As other services began to appear that were adamant about being a paid service, they had to offer an awfully big incentive to get people to pay for what they could otherwise get for free. The first move was to recruit as many big name artists as possible and get them to make their music exclusive to a particular service. Tidal is the big villain when it comes to exclusivity, with artists such as Beyoncé releasing music solely through the service. Apple Music try to lure people in with fairer exclusive content such as their Beats 1 radio, but even they have resorted to buying up the streaming rights to music from the likes of Taylor Swift.

This kind of behaviour is nothing new, the gaming industry has been doing it for years. However whilst certain game mechanics are better suited to different platforms (e.g. Minecraft on PC rather than Xbox) we all listen to music the same way. Tidal, who are the most expensive service, have argued that they give artists a better pay for streams, but the truth is that it is still a pittance unless they are already a filthy rich, big name artist. At least Spotify somewhat makes up for the inadequate pay by playlisting new artists and introducing them to a wider audience, something that doesn’t have the same impact when you just have a small club with more money than sense who are only there for the special exclusives. The sad truth is that streaming doesn’t pay anywhere near enough to artists, but splitting the wider public into insular little circles all relying on different platforms just makes the problem worse.

Now I’m not saying everyone should, or even could, give all their music away for free, but music is for the masses. Artists deserve more pay for streams, no doubt about that, but that shouldn’t stop them from sharing their creations with their devoted fans. What kind of artist are you if you only let the entitled few listen to what you have created? We have art galleries and libraries for the world to enjoy other art forms, so why are people suddenly hiding away music instead of letting people enjoy it? What’s the point in even making it if people aren’t going to hear it? Should such albums even be eligible for awards or for “best of the year” lists if only a tiny proportion of music fans can actually listen to them? It is a trend that needs to die out sooner rather than later.