Frank Ocean Just Shook Universal

Music Business Worldwide – “Eagle-eyed observers have noticed that Ocean’s long-awaited audio album, Blonde, has actually been self-released.

It is marked on Apple Music and iTunes as (p) Boys Don’t Cry, with no mention of UMG or Ocean’s former label home, Island Def Jam.

So how has Ocean got away with it?

The suggestion is that the New Orleans-born star had one more album to fulfill in his contract with Universal.

That obligation was apparently chalked up with the release of Endless – a ‘visual album’ which arrived on Apple Music on August 19, featuring the likes of James Blakeand Sampha.

Blonde arrived a day later, widely seen as Ocean’s ‘proper’ studio album. And it appears to be completely free of UMG ownership.

Some will say this is a risky strategy from Ocean and his management at Three Six Zero; others will deem it a stroke of genius in the pursuit of direct artist power.

It certainly seems to have got UMG rattled.

 

This move is HUGE. Since the birth of digital music, the industry has been in a strange place where although major record labels became less and less necessary for the distribution of music, they demanded more and more from artists. Although Ocean’s move is sure to cause some kind of disturbance among the seemingly invincible major labels, it likely will not affect them much.

Unfortunately, this move is going to hit indie labels the hardest. If this move is yet another signifier that soon streaming platforms will become their own labels and enter into contracts with artists completely independent of labels, the majors will bounce back. If it comes to losing all of their artist to direct-distribution deals (such as Frank Ocean’s release of “Blonde” independent of a label) or taking a MASSIVE royalty cut to appease artists, majors can afford to take the lose to preserve their business.

The guys that can’t afford to are the indie labels. The people that aren’t fucking over the artists. The people that put their own money on the line to pursue a career that they are passionate about. While I’m sure that there are a good number of people at major labels that care about the industry, you don’t work at an indie label unless you care passionately about music. And unless they find another way to make themselves necessary, these are the people that are going to take the biggest hit if more and more artists start to migrate to direct-distribution deals.

Meanwhile, Evil Empire Apple is licking its lips.

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