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The Beyonce Album Drop Is a Perfect Portrait of the Future of Music

‘Homecoming: The Live Album’ is another surprise drop, but no longer an exclusive one

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Beyonce's 'Homecoming' live album was released on all major streaming platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify and Google Play.

Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment

Homecoming, the Beyoncé concert film documentary that dropped on Netflix Wednesday, arrived with a little (or not little) surprise in tow: a two-hour, 40-track live album, available for immediate listening on all major music-streaming services.

The hefty new record, titled Homecoming: the Live Album and featuring recordings from Beyoncé’s headline performance at Coachella in 2018, as well as a handful of re-recordings and fresh tracks, came out shortly after midnight Pacific Time on Wednesday morning, with streaming services like Apple Music promoting the cover art just as Netflix was promoting the film; East Coast fans stumbled upon it in a 3 a.m. daze. But while the album itself was a secret, its drop — surprising, lengthy, widely available and bundled with a major film project — represents everything we can expect these days from new music projects.

As the record industry barrels toward a streaming-led future, it’s tailoring new albums to fit that new business model. Long albums with a bunch of songs have the ability to rack up more total streams, shooting artists to the top of music charts faster. Surprise albums, similarly, attract a flurry of interest from fans and appeal to the new “grazing” style that casual listeners take, whereby they stream albums for curiosity, not deep investment. (After all, when all-access consumption is built into a monthly price, it costs nothing extra.) Beyoncé’s bundling of the new live album with a Netflix film also highlights the amplified value of combining video and music entertainment — an approach that the music industry is increasingly taking, both at a high level (see, for instance: the marriage of Spotify Premium and Hulu) and individual level (just this week, Childish Gambino’s film Guava Island came out in a special theater at Coachella).

One trend that Beyoncé’s new album admits is all but dead? The platform-specific exclusive. While the singer’s 2016 record Lemonade was a long-term exclusive to Tidal, the streaming service partly owned by her husband Jay-Z, Homecoming: The Live Album hit Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, iTunes and other services all at once. Major artists have quietly abandoned the idea of limited releases: The last instance was Taylor Swift in 2017, who withheld her album Reputation from streaming for its first few days — but ultimately released it on all services, where it joined her entire back catalog. Exclusive drops may be helpful for bolstering the market share of one streaming platform over another, but to climb charts, reap maximum financial gain, and simply be heard the most, artists are acknowledging that they can’t be too choosy.

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