Jason Aldean's 'Rearview Town' to Test New Model for Spotify, YouTube: Streaming First for Paying Subscribers

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Jason Aldean performs onstage for the Country Rising Benefit Concert at Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 12, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.

The major labels negotiated the rights to window releases in their recent licensing agreements with the services.

For the first two weeks of its release, Jason Aldean’s Rearview Town, out Friday, will be available only on the premium tier of all subscription services, Billboard has confirmed.

The move, unique for a major artist on both Spotify and YouTube, indicates a shift from both streaming giants' previous policies of not allowing artists to dictate to which tiers and markets they make their music available. The major labels negotiated the rights to window releases in their recent licensing agreements with the services, but no big acts immediately took advantage of the ability.

The two-week premium window for Aldean's album also applies to multi-tier services such as Amazon and Pandora: Aldean’s music will not be available on those free tiers until after the 14-day premium exclusive ends. The Broken Bow/BMG release will be immediately available on subscription-only streaming services Apple Music and Tidal (in which Aldean is a partner) as usual, as well as available for purchase via download or as a physical CD. 

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.