Let's get this out of the way up front: "exclusives" do not work in the digital world, period. And nothing Apple, Jay-Z, Pandora or Spotify says or does is going to change that.
Music "exclusives" are a construct of the record labels, retailers and promotional outlets like radio, video, and press. They're typically used by labels to barter better placement, advance marketing, more airplay, or in the old days, a bigger initial physical product order. And although music exclusives created hassles with retailers or consumers ("how come I can't buy this version in your store?") they worked fairly well in the physical product world, because labels could control how many copies were produced, and where they went.
This is not the case with digital music, of course. Zeros and ones don't respect territorial restrictions, release windows or handshake agreements. Once a file is in the wild, it duplicates itself faster than a Tribble or a wet Gremlin. Beyonce and Madonna found this out when they debuted content on Tidal, which was then uploaded to Youtube almost immediately. In the digital world, "exclusive" lasts about ten minutes. This should be obvious to anyone who's used the internet in the past 15 years.
In his recent book, "The innovators", Walther Isaacson states:
“The protocols of the Internet were devised by peer collaboration, and the resulting system seemed to have embedded in its genetic code a propensity to facilitate such collaboration. The power to create and transmit information was fully distributed to each of the nodes, and any attempt to impose controls or a hierarchy could be routed around. Without falling into the teleological fallacy of ascribing intentions or a personality to technology, it’s fair to say that a system of open networks connected to individually controlled computers tended, as the printing press did, to wrest control over the distribution of information from gatekeepers, central authorities, and institutions that employed scriveners and scribes. It became easier for ordinary folks to create and share content.”
Excerpt From: Walter Isaacson. “The Innovators.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/kwW4Y
Essentially, "exclusives", which both Apple and Tidal are reportedly pursuing as competitive advantages and/or differentiators in their streaming services, are completely contrary to the nature of the internet itself. The internet doesn't want ANYTHING to be exclusive - least of all content from otherwise ubiquitous pop stars. So why are very smart people with very deep pockets, tasked with relaunching global digital music services, chasing after something that can't really work?
1) Every streaming music service has roughly the same music catalog available, because of what is available for licensing in a given territory.
2) The licensing agreements the labels make the streaming and downloading services sign have segments which limit how the content can be used/sold.
3) The rights issues, the ingrained habit of marketing releases on a structured cycle, and packaging products in ways familiar to consumers, completely stifle creative approaches to marketing and selling music that the internet inherently affords.
In a nutshell, it's easier to do the same old thing than it is to innovate.
Digital music services are pretty much all really dumb, and it's not because they don't have the data to be really smart. For instance: I've been buying music on iTunes since the day it launched. They have 12 years of detailed purchase information from me, where I was living at the time I bought it, what time the transaction occurred. If anyone should know what music I like, it's Apple. Yet every Tuesday, when I log into the iTunes store, I have to weed through tons of releases by artists I don't care about, in genres I'm not interested in (and their Genius feature is anything but.) This wouldn't be so bad if they actually informed me about new releases by artists I have actually purchased in the past - because again, they have that data. But they don't, not to my satisfaction.
Same thing with Spotify - they send emails hyping releases by artists or genres that I'm not interested in, and their main pane showcases a sea of content I have no interest in. They could look at data on what I've listened to since I joined the service, spend some of their billions developing intelligent recommendation methods that would customize my listening experience, package it up in ways I never imagined - but they don't. It's easier to offer 99% the same catalog as the other guys, and get an artist to do a few in-studio exclusive tracks, so they can say "we some unique content."
So what. That's boring. Unimaginative.
A few unreleased demos, higher quality audio or a different price point isn't going to reinvigorate the digital music business. A completely new way of offering content that is in harmony with the nature of the internet is.
Take individual listener data, location based services, intelligent recommendation, peer to peer and social sharing, and throw it in a blender. Create a music service that evolves not only based on what you've been listening to, but to where you are, what the environment is like, what other people are listening to. Don't wall things up, reward the tastemakers who share your music and convert people. Kill "exclusive", make inclusive the mantra. That's what the internet wants, that's what music consumers want, even if they don't know it yet.
Too obtuse? OK, the idea in practical application: let's call the hypothetical service Boomerang. Boomerang knows I downloaded a book about David Bowie's Berlin years, and it just so happens at the moment I'm actually visiting Berlin. My phone is hitting GPS as I'm walking, and the database is creating a location aware playlist in response to my environment. I walk by the former site of the Berlin Wall, and "Heroes" comes on. Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" is up next as I stroll by the former site of Kling Klang Studios. My friends around the world can listen in as I do this walking playlist, and I can upload photographs from my location, to which they can add comments in real time. As I walk by an underground techno club, a genre I'm interested in, Boomerang alerts me that there's music inside, would I like to hear what's playing? And I get a live stream from the club, or can mark it on GPS to revisit later. As I wind down for the evening, my smart watch senses my relaxed state, shares this with Boomerang and it starts playing ambient music by Brian Eno.
After I get home, Boomerang creates a mix tape of everything I saw, which I can archive and share with friends. And it's not just a playlist, it's a true mixtape - snippets of songs weaved together in a unique composition, beat matched and combined with my images, and perhaps images others have attached to these songs. Perhaps my journeys and the resulting musical collages become popular among my friends, and get widely shared because Boomerang enables that instead of a walled garden approach - wouldn't it be great if we could somehow reward the tastemakers who helped spread music into new ears, instead of trying to keep everything locked up and in the hands of people without imagination?
Perhaps our musical tastes will be used as an axis, and map possibilities of other content we'd like around it, different dimensions the music will morph into while we listen. A linear direction might be a Bowie only playlist, another might be music by artists that have influenced him, another those whom he has influenced. Or the tempo, the timbre, the temperature of the music could be dynamically matched to our tastes, based on a response to what one hears. This could be done via a gesture, or (smartwatch again) via biofeedback. This can happen when we intersect personal data with "evolved" metadata on the artists/songs/albums, and layer that with location based data.
The current metadata included with digital files is very simple stuff: artist name, song name, album name, composer, number of tracks, tempo, release dates rights holder information, etc. This is mostly so the right people can get paid; necessary and useful of course, but a missed opportunity. How, when, where and by whom music is being consumed could be a tremendously valuable tool in creating a more entertaining, exciting and relevant music service. What song do most people listen to after a given song? What time of the day do they listen to it, what's the median age of the listeners? Looking at the entire audience, then playlisting dynamically based on real time feedback, could be incredible. This data could be used to make better predictions on what someone, somewhere, somewhen might like. Advertisers and social networks are already collecting this kind of data to determine what adverts you see when you're online. Is it any wonder why many kids would rather work at a tech company than a major label?
I've been in the record business long enough to know all the reasons why a major label, a rights organization, or even an artist would say the above ideas cannot happen - but I've also been working with the internet long enough to know that somebody will do something like this (probably in a much more interesting way than I've expressed here), whether or not they have permission from anyone to do it. The ongoing focus on "exclusives" as the way to attract consumers to music services is wasted effort. False scarcity is not what's going to make the music business exciting again, forging a new path is.
People who think the success of digital music is about the right price point, or "exclusives", DO NOT GET IT.
It's about the music, and the experience of music. Always.