Music Industry

What is “Music Windowing?” And What Should You Care? Here’s Why.

Want access to all music as soon as it comes out? Get ready to pay up.

A new licensing agreement between Spotify and an organization that presents some 20,000 indie labels contains an new provision called “windowing,” something the movie industry has been using for years.

When a film is released, it stays in theatres for a certain amount of time. From there, it moves to on-demand, airline entertainment systems and hotel rooms. After that, it gets released on DVD and shown on premium cable TV channels before moving to Netflix and finally network TV and basic cable. Each of those steps is called a window.

By contrast, a new album gets released physically, as a downloadable digital file and to all levels of streaming music services simultaneously. The fact that we can access a new album on the free tier of a streaming service like Spotify greatly annoys labels, artists and managers. They’ve long been yelling for a window whereby the release is only available on the paid level of Spotify (or whomever).

Last Thursday in front of a packed house at Canadian Music Week, I spoke with Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine and Taylor Swift’s manager. He was adamant that some music is worth more than other music. If an in-demand superstar like Tay-Tay (or Drake or The Weeknd or Adele, etc.) releases a new record, then it should be assigned a higher market value than a release by a brand new indie artist and therefore be restricted to those listeners who actually pay for their streaming. To underscore his point, he wore a jacket with the words “Music Has Value” on the sleeve.

We seem to be moving inexorably in that direction. Spotify has a new licensing agreement with Universal to provide a two-week window on specific releases. And like I said, Merlin has hammered out the same deal for its clients. The other majors, Sony and Warner, are sure to follow.

The whole purpose, obviously, is to get more people to pay for streaming, thereby ensuring (a) better payouts for artists; (b) people begin to understand that music should cost something; and (c) that Spotify and other streamers will survive financially. Given the revenue labels are now deriving from streaming, the concept is now officially too big to fail.

Read more here.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38514 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

4 thoughts on “What is “Music Windowing?” And What Should You Care? Here’s Why.

  • Having worked in a video store just before VHS gave way to DVD I was there when there was a rental window on releases. Frequently explaining to customers how the movie at the multiplex wouldn’t be available to rent for 3-6 months and generally not available to buy for a month or 2 after that. Then DVD came along and decimated the rental window.. Having been through that shift I find it fascinating seeing music make a reverse trip and trying to set up a window system. This should be interesting. Will it work or will the attempt to reign in control collapse? Will people pay for access to music 2 weeks early or will the majority shrug it off and wait for the window to end. Is the window on the album alone or is there a new window for each single released?

  • What will happen is that the Pirate Bay will get a big boost again, as piracy promptly becomes more convenient than the official channel once more. All players have actually worked this out, but the music industry has always been into short-sighted greed.

  • Yeah, nobody is switching streamer for an exclusive. Maybe the odd person just starting to try streaming as a whole, ceteris paribus, will go with Spotify over Deezer (or vice versa, etc). But like many have pointed out, people will wait, buy the actual disc or just pirate the damn thing.


  • The YouTube bots better be ready, because those “windowed” tracks are gonna be uploaded all over the place for users to listen to free of charge… and uploaded as quick as the bots can put a ban on the tracks.
    I get the industry wants to capitalize on the added value that an established star’s material might have, but limiting access NEVER works. How about instead they put more effort into the packaging and other physical paraphernalia, or sell off access to behind-the-scenes glimpses through the fan club? If you wanna capitalize on the star’s brand, do it by providing MORE (for a price), not LESS.


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