Well, that didn’t take long. Not even a month after news broke that Jay Z was buying a streaming music company, not only has he already relaunched it, he’s also started hitting his competitors where it hurts—namely, access to his music.
Reasonable Doubt, the classic 1996 album by Jay Z, is now conspicuously absent from Spotify’s catalog, according to Bloomberg Business. And while more than 20 other Jay Z albums remain on Spotify, don’t expect them all to stay there for long.
That’s because what we’re witnessing here isn’t just a product launch: It’s an all-out war for the future of music streaming, and how the all-you-can-stream subscription model fits into the broader music industry moving forward. Shortly after relaunching Tidal, the rapper’s streaming service featured exclusive videos from Beyoncé and Rihanna, a sign that it plans to use star power to lure users away from competitors like Spotify–and one-up Apple’s upcoming Beats subscription service before it can even get off the ground.
With things like its celeb-heavy launch event and content exclusives, Tidal is drawing its battle lines around the interests of artists, some of whom are unhappy with the economics of services like Spotify. Most famously, Taylor Swift yanked her catalog from Spotify late last year, citing concerns over the service’s free, ad-supported (and less lucrative) tier. Jay Z and his allies have similar concerns over how artists get compensated as music listening shifts from downloads to streams.
The coming battle over artist exclusivity in the music streaming business could put fans in an uncomfortable position: Instead of selecting a service based on sound quality, mobile features, and catalog size, fans may be forced to follow their favorite artists to whatever company to which they happen to be loyal to–or worse, wind up subscribing to multiple services and fracturing their collections across different apps. So much for the dream of a single, all-you-can-stream music subscription provider.
It doesn’t have to turn out that way. By banding together and putting heat on the incumbents in this space, this coterie of artists could wind up getting what they want without breaking up our music libraries: Spotify could cave to artists’ demands, which could be as simple as shuttering its free tier.
For now, Spotify remains the front-runner in this space with over 60 million users, 15 million of which are paying subscribers. Notably, the 60-million-user milestone was announced after Swift packed her bags and ditched the platform, so it may be a while before these artists’ exclusivity plays wind up making a dent. With so much competition in this space (Google now has two music subscription services and Apple’s is on the way) this whole thing is only going to get more interesting to watch unfold.