Aldean has a complicated history with streaming in general. His last album, 2014's Old Boots, New Dirt, broke the record for the biggest first week for a country album on Spotify with over three million streams after its release on Oct. 7 of that year. But a month later Aldean had the album pulled from the service, telling the Associated Press at the time, "I'm an artist whose career has been built by the songwriters, publishers, producers and engineers that line Music Row in Nashville. What they do has value, and I want everyone who is involved in making my music to be paid fairly. This is about trying to do what is right for the people who have given me a great life."
Four months later, Aldean was on stage representing for country music at Tidal's official launch event, during which Jay Z made a pitch for fair artist compensation and higher royalty rates through his service. Aldean's Boots eventually returned to Spotify on Nov. 5, 2015.
But Aldean feels like his previous Spotify decision misrepresented what he was trying to do. "The last time around, I tried to do the right thing and it backfired and made me look like the bad guy; that was never my intention at all," he says. "This isn’t about me making more money. It’s about the younger artists coming up and having a legitimate shot at having a career in this business, a long career... I’ve been made to look like I was greedy for wanting to stand up for not only myself but for an entire genre of music and an entire town -- Nashville. It’s about the writers, publishers, producers, everybody is getting the short end of the stick on this deal. I have a lot of friends in this town who make their living writing."
Withholding an album from streaming services is a bold move in the new music industry, as streaming continues its revenue growth; on-demand audio streams grew 97.4 percent year-over-year according Nielsen Music mid-year 2016 report, as album sales slipped 14 percent compared to this time last year. And the IFPI's annual global report earlier this year noted that streaming revenue exploded in 2015, increasing by 45.2 percent to $2.9 billion, helping digital revenue outstrip physical revenue in the industry for the first time ever.
But there's a case to be made that that growth in streaming is much slower in country music. According to Nielsen Music's mid-year 2016 report, country music total album sales (including TEA and SEA) accounted for 8.4 percent of the total market in the first half of the year, fourth among all genres (pop, at 14.5 percent, was well ahead in third). But isolate that number into just physical album sales and country jumps to 13.1 percent of the market, up to third among all genres behind R&B/Hip-Hop (16.3 percent) and Rock (the dominant leader at 43.0 percent). Taking out sales and focusing on total on-demand streams and country's share drops to 5.0 percent, tied with electronic/dance in fifth place among all genres.
Of Tidal's initial 16, three artists -- Beyonce, Rihanna and Kanye West -- have released full-length albums, and all utilized a Tidal exclusivity window (in different ways to varied effect) as part of the rollout of those projects. And other artists involved in the service -- Nicki Minaj, Madonna, J. Cole, Usher and more -- have released exclusive videos or performed live-streamed Tidal shows for the service, or made parts of their catalogs exclusive to the streamer. (Aldean himself performed a stripped-down set for a Tidal live stream on June 9, just before he headlined the CMA Music Festival in Nashville.)
But Aldean is taking a different route for his album, a la Adele with her latest album, 25. Seven months after its record-shattering release, Adele eventually did make 25 available to all streaming services; by that point, it had already been certified eight times platinum by the RIAA with sales of over eight million copies.
They Don't Know will be available at all physical and digital retailers the day of its release, then will be available at all streaming services begining Oct. 9. Tidal did not return a request for comment as of press time.