Prince Won’t Stream 4 U (Unless You’re On Tidal, Or Maybe Google Music)

Call it the Taylor effect: it looks like another high-profile musician is sharpening his arrows to take aim at how streaming music services pay artists. Music from the artist currently known as Prince has been pulled from Spotify and Rdio. And Deezer — where at the time of writing Prince’s music is still streaming — has confirmed to us that it has received a takedown notice and is in the process of removing Prince’s music, too.

For now, the music is still streaming on two platforms — Google Music All Access and Tidal, the hi-definition streaming service acquired by Jay-Z and “co-owned” by many others.

It looks like this is part of a broader move by the musician to take the music off platforms that allow people to stream tracks for no fee.

“Prince’s publisher has asked all streaming services to remove his catalog. We have cooperated with the request, and hope to bring his music back as soon as possible,” Spotify notes on its Prince artist page. Rdio also confirmed to us directly that it has followed a request to remove tracks (now absent on the Rdio artist page for Prince).

Google, meanwhile, tells us that so far it has not received a notice and so the streamed music continues to flow freely (so to speak).

Tidal has not responded to our request for comment, and for the record, neither has Prince.

(Apple Music, it should be noted, didn’t have Prince to begin with, along with some other notable gaps including The Beatles.)

For those who follow Prince on Twitter or Prince more generally, you may have seen this one coming.

On June 26, he retweeted a post on The Daily Beast called “Taylor Swift Is The New Prince,” which detailed how Prince was Taylor’s precedent for musician activism against the Big Music and the big labels. He also quoted from the article’s description of the unfairness of services like Spotify:

“Spotify is co-owned by record labels, who hold 20 percent of the company’s stocks,” Prince noted. “Essentially, streaming has offered labels the ability to pay themselves twice while reducing what is owed to artists from pennies on the dollar to fractions of pennies on the dollar.” Spotify regularly updates the world on how much it pays out to artists from plays on its platform, but it doesn’t seem to have everyone convinced.

As with his previous fights with Warner Music (detailed in the Daily Beast article), Prince seems to be advocating for something more sophisticated, where artists have more control over how their music appears on these services. Another post he retweeted from Billboard notes that the Department of Justice is considering a reform of the rules that govern how music publishers license digital music.

Prince also has exercised his rights over digital services in the past. Last November, at the same time that he pulled Twitter and Facebook accounts, Prince also took most of his official tracks off YouTube. The YouTube move leads me to wonder if there is simply a delay on getting his tracks off Google Music All Access.

In the past, Prince has been especially un-simpatico with people who give out free access to his work. In January 2014, he sued 22 fans for $1 million each for linking to bootlegs of his concerts. In 2010 he gave a scathing criticism of the digital music industry in an interview with the UK’s Daily Mirror (the bigger interview is worth a read).

“The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it,” he told the newspaper. “The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

You’ll see, however, that Prince is not completely turned off all “free” digital streams, especially if they can help with marketing rather than simple consumption. Yesterday he publicised the release of a new track, Hardrocklover, on Soundcloud., which appears to have been the first to spot the Prince removal on Spotify, points out that Prince had been working with Tidal already, specifically around his Rally 4 Peace concert streaming on the service in May, part of a bigger program that Tidal has been building up of free streamed video events to promote its larger paywalled offering.

Deezer sounds like it may be working on getting the music back, but in the meantime a slow disappearance of popular music from these services gradually devalues them and their “listen to anything” proposition.

“We feel very strongly that consumers who pay for a streaming service should ultimately have access to everything they want. If people find themselves locked out of content they want, there are two ways they’re going to go to get the content for free – to YouTube, or illegal download,” Deezer CEO Hans-Holger Albrecht told TechCrunch.

“If we go as an industry into broad exclusivity for platforms we’re going to kill the model – it’s as simple as that. People pay for our service because they want to get all the music they love in one place. Forcing consumers to go to three or four streaming services to get all the music they want will drive them back to piracy.”