Frank Ocean made an enterprising move to independently release his new album “Blonde” on Saturday without the involvement of his former label Def Jam or Universal Music Group (UMG), its parent company. But as Billboard reports, the R&B singer's crafty and potentially lucrative manuever could get him sued.
Ocean reportedly fulfilled his recording contract with Def Jam on Friday by releasing a visual album, “Endless,” on Apple Music. In doing so, Ocean freed himself up to release “Blonde” — his proper second album, which critics are lauding — as an Apple Music exclusive the next day, through his new independent label called Boys Don’t Cry.
According to Billboard, Ocean’s strategy has “increased his potential profit share from 14 percent to 70 percent” for the sales and streaming of “Blonde,” which is on track to earn 225,000 to 250,000 equivalent album units and debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
As a result, UMG has missed out on the long-awaited work of one of its hottest artists. Stuck with “Endless,” a visual album that isn’t for sale, Universal stands to lose a significant profit.
One source has speculated to Billboard that UMG may have grounds to sue Ocean, though other sources close to the situation at Def Jam have told the outlet that "no legal action against Ocean is currently being considered.“
The one-day window between "Endless” and “Blonde” would likely be UMG’s foremost point of legal contention with Ocean. As Billboard notes, most standard recording contracts have “minimum-delivery clauses,” wherein an artist can only fulfill his or her contract by delivering albums within a set time frame and at “a label-acceptable level of quality.”
In other words, it’s very possibly Ocean violated his contract by releasing another album on the heels of his last delivered for Def Jam.
Nonetheless, Ocean’s controversial move has certainly made waves in the industry and brought more scrutiny to the concept of streaming exclusives for artists.
According to a report from music industry insider Bob Lefsetz, UMG has effectively banned streaming exclusives following the release of “Blonde.”
As The Verge notes, the prospect of influential artists leaving the major-label system for streaming services has long frightened labels and could "cause a power shift that the industry hasn’t experienced since iTunes hit the scene in 2003.“
UMG has not yet responded to a request for comment from Business Insider.