At first the news seemed to follow a familiar, exhilarating pattern. Late on Thursday, two new albums with material by Beyoncé — credited to the name Queen Carter — appeared on Spotify and Apple Music. Social media exploded, assuming that Beyoncé, the master of the surprise album release, had repeated her magic trick yet again.
But the story quickly unraveled. Fans noticed that the albums were made up primarily of old tracks and demo recordings, and the albums were taken down. The Beyoncé album releases, it turned out, were a hoax, apparently uploaded to Apple and Spotify through Soundrop, a do-it-yourself distribution service that caters to young, independent musicians.
Unauthorized recordings online are nothing new, of course, but are usually found on YouTube or on file-sharing networks. Yet the fact that two albums by one of the biggest stars in the world were available on Spotify and Apple — two giant online outlets long seen by the music industry as bulwarks against piracy — is largely unheard-of. (It did follow the release this month of demo recordings by the R&B singer SZA, which, the head of her label said on Twitter, had been “stolen and leaked.”)
For Spotify in particular, which has made moves to allow independent artists to upload music directly to its platform — bypassing the usual controls of a label or distribution company — the Beyoncé and SZA leaks point to a possible risk for the company in maintaining its always-fraught relations with the big music conglomerates.
“This is a classic dilemma that all of these services are facing,” said Panos