The decision will likely help bolster Aldean’s first week sales numbers, but may also be an indication that labels are growing increasingly confident about snubbing free listeners -- albeit temporarily -- as subscription numbers grow. As of January, Spotify claimed 71 million paying subscribers worldwide, up from 30 million in March 2016. Apple has 40 million paid subscribers.
The move will also test YouTube’s commitment to keeping unauthorized uploads of Aldean’s album off of its free platform during the two weeks while it offers the music on the paid service YouTube Red. Despite the efficacy of YouTube’s Content ID system that labels can use to automatically block, monetize or mute their tracks in user-uploaded videos, record companies have complained that unsanctioned videos containing their music can still slip through the cracks on the free site, potentially hurting sales. Offering music exclusively on its paid tier is a shift for YouTube, though it has offered other exclusive video content for subscribers.
Aldean has challenged free streaming before, withholding his last album, 2016’s They Don’t Know from all streaming outlets for its first month of release. (He followed Adele, who kept 2015’s 25 off all streaming services -- paid or otherwise -- for the first seven months of its release).
In November 2014, Aldean withdrew his entire catalog from Spotify, following Taylor Swift’s lead, commenting that the business model did not fairly compensate artists. Swift pulled her music from Spotify, opining “music should not be free,” in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal.
Aldean kept his music off of Spotify for a year, not returning until November 2015. In a Facebook post about his Spotify return, he wrote "Everyone in the music business is trying to figure out how to make streaming work financially, so that the creative community gets paid fairly. I'm happy to have been part of that dialog and will continue to be as it all unfolds.... I've heard from you, the fans ... that you really miss being able to stream my music. I definitely want you to be able to find it easily, so we've decided to make it available again.”
Aldean, who is up for entertainer of the year at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, had no comment on his new strategy.