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Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' comes to iTunes tonight

Tidal will still have the exclusive streaming rights.
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Last night, Beyoncé debuted “Lemonade” via an HBO special, then began streaming the album exclusively via Tidal.

But if you can wait a few hours, you’ll be able to get “Lemonade” on iTunes. The album, including the accompanying videos that Beyoncé debuted on Saturday, will be on sale via Apple’s download store at midnight ET, according to a person familiar with the release plans.

The staggered release means that Tidal’s exclusive on one of the most high-profile albums of 2016 is a mere 24 hours. But it also means that Tidal can still claim exclusive streaming rights to the album: For now, at least, it’s the only subscription service that carries “Lemonade.”*

The New York Times reported on release plans for “Lemonade” earlier today.

For normal humans, the move means they now have at least two different ways to consume “Lemonade”: Rent it via Tidal, or buy it at iTunes, Tidal and presumably other outlets as well. It’s reasonable to assume that other digital retailers will have it, and it’s likely that CD buyers will still have that option at some point (yes, people still buy CDs).

For music industry observers, “Lemonade” is another skirmish in an ongoing, multi-front battle among artists, music labels and music services over album exclusives.

While exclusives are not a new concept, with a handful of exceptions they haven’t been a significant part of the music business until recently: If you wanted to buy or stream an artist’s new album, you could (usually) get it via the same stores and distributors.

But in the last year or so, the notion that artists might line up exclusively for significant periods of time with particular services has become a much-discussed topic in the music industry.

Last year, in the run-up to the launch of Apple Music, industry sources said Apple music exec Jimmy Iovine was talking about signing up artists for long-term exclusives — a concept Apple execs now say they were never interested in.

Instead, what we’ve seen is a patchwork of deals that give different streaming services and digital retailers different rights for different periods of time. You can only stream Prince’s music via Tidal, for instance. You can’t stream Taylor Swift via Spotify, but you can on Apple Music. You can’t stream Adele anywhere.

In most cases, though, the exclusives are generally short. That’s because artists — and the labels that generally own the music those artists make — don’t want to make long-term deals that favor one distributor over another.

And that appears to be the case with the artists who’ve signed up with Tidal, the service owned by Jay Z, who happens to be married to Beyoncé. Even though Beyoncé, Kanye West and Rihanna are all equity partners in Tidal, none of them have been willing or able to give Tidal a long-term exclusive on new albums they released this year.

Kanye West went the longest, keeping “The Life of Pablo” on Tidal for about two months before eventually releasing it on Apple Music and everyone else. West was able to pull that off in part because he’s Kanye West and in part because he kept tinkering with the album and could plausibly argue that it wasn’t ready for a full-scale release.

But the reality is that in most cases, artists don’t have full control over their music — their labels do.

So while mega-stars like West and Beyoncé are able to use their weight, if they want, to tweak the distribution rules a bit, the big labels are in the business of getting their songs out to as many places, via as many outlets, as possible. That won’t change anytime soon.

* Tidal rep Alisa Finkelstein says Tidal will be exclusively streaming Lemonade “in perpetuity.” That is a very long time! A mighty long time, as Prince would say. It seems like a not very believable amount of time. But! If Beyonce has indeed been able to use her clout to extract exclusive streaming rights for the streaming service owned by her husband forever and ever, then that would be something.

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