(Photo Credit: Marisa Rose Ficara)
Over the last 4 years, Frank Ocean may be the most talked about artist without releasing a single second of music. Following 2012’s critically acclaimed and commercially glorified Channel Orange, Ocean held fans over a ledge with multiple release date delays and almost no information whatsoever. So when he released two records within 24 hours of each other, anybody remotely interested in music scrambled to listen to it immediately.
The second, and more commercial, record, Blonde shot up the charts to number 1 on the Billboard 200 with an estimated sale of 250,000 to 300,000 album equivalent units in streams. But in contrast, the first record, Endless, was simply not made to be a monetary success like Blonde was. Some might say that this is just a simple artistic decision made by Ocean for contrast, but the Def Jam/Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge seems to think that there is more to the story, and his version seems a little more realistic.
Endless was made to fulfill Ocean’s two album contract with Def Jam so that he could release Blonde on his very own Boys Don’t Cry label and increase his total profit share from 14 percent to a whopping 70 percent. In response, Grainge has reportedly responded by directing his underlings to cease exclusive distribution deals with streaming services. Forbes reported that Grainge’s decision was “influenced partly by Ocean’s move to partner with Apple.”
Def Jam reportedly spent approximately $2 million on the recording of Ocean’s various projects, until the release of Endless. At first, UMG hinted to threaten with legal action against Ocean, but according to Billboard, it seems that a private benefactor paid back all debts to Def Jam, “absolving him of any recoupable claims from Def Jam/UMG and essentially buying Ocean his own recordings back.”
However, the question remains as to whether UMG has the grounds to take legal action against Ocean for the release of Blonde. If Frank Ocean’s two-album contract included a minimum-delivery clause, he would have had to deliver each project within a set time frame and according to a label-determined quality. Many recording contracts also specify a window of time during which contracted artists cannot release music on another label. But this is absolutely not definite.
On the other hand, this brings up a larger discussion regarding exclusive streaming rights, which many claim to be worse for both the artist and their fans. Music industry savant Bob Lefsetz called on the government to investigate Apple for an antitrust violation. “How do you compete with the world’s richest company that’s got endless cash on hand? You can’t,” Lefsetz wrote, later adding, “We’ve got an industry that promotes marginal products that appeal to few and makes them unavailable to most people? That’s hysterical!”