Or, why “exclusive” means nothing on 2015’s internet.
On Thursday evening, Dr. Dre released Compton, his first album in 16 years. It's a marquee release and, so far, a critical success. It's also an advertisement, for both Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic hitting theaters this month, and Apple Music — the platform Dre works for, announced the album on, and is currently using to exclusively stream his record. In buying Beats, Apple made Dr. Dre “hip-hop's first billionaire,” and in return, he's making Apple Music the only member of the increasingly crowded streaming market with access to his hotly anticipated new album.
But the thing is, Apple Music isn't the only place online you can find Compton — it's been widely available on illegal download sites all day. Exclusivity only works if Apple Music really is the only place to hear the album, and I'm downloading Compton right now, no subscription required.
It's pretty easy to find. All it takes is some basic googling — seriously, try searching “Dr. Dre Compton free download” yourself and see how long it takes. You don't even need to install a torrenting program — you'll probably encounter a Captcha, then maybe a 60-second wait. It's astonishingly easy to do.
In Compton's case, you don't need to illegally download it: The Apple Music free 90-day trial period is still ongoing, which means anyone with an Apple ID can listen to it. But the fact that it's so easy to find the album is an indication that piracy isn't just a problem for physical media.
Streaming is, undeniably, the new way to listen to music: It's easier in almost every way than collecting digital files (let alone physical CDs). But structuring a streaming service around “exclusive” songs and albums naively ignores the fact that the old internet — the internet of Pirate Bay and Napster, the internet that was born in an era when you couldn't get nearly any song you wanted for a small monthly fee and resorted to illegal downloading — is still alive and well. The same infrastructure of stealing music online that first decimated the music industry still exists, and it's not going anywhere. Trying to cordon off content on the internet has always been a loser's game.
As Apple and its competitors in the streaming market — Spotify, Rdio, Tidal, and more — race to sign up subscribers, “exclusive” releases from big-name artists might seem, at first blush, like the kind of perk that might prompt someone to choose one service over a field of fairly similar offerings. But consumers aren't going to switch their subscriptions around every time a well-known artist cuts a deal with one company or another, and the most avid fans didn't forget how to illegally download music the moment streaming became popular — if they want to hear it, they'll find a way. It's just as easy as it ever was.