No Apple Music? Frank Ocean's album now streams free on Pandora...if you're patient

Pandora is the first free, legal way to stream Ocean's hit record "Blonde" without paying Apple, but licensing rules mean you'll be hearing a lot of Drake in the deal, too.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
2 min read
Enlarge Image

Frank Ocean's first album in four years has been a hit and only available through Apple since it was released Saturday.

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Pandora has loosened Apple's exclusive hold on streaming Frank Ocean's new hit album, but you'll need to be patient to hear it all.

The company said Thursday the songs from Ocean's 17-track "Blonde" record are available to stream. The album is featured on the artist's Pandora channel.

But Pandora's licensing rules mean you can't listen to all of "Blonde" in the order you prefer: Playing his station should kick off with one of his tracks, but after that listeners hear similar songs by different artists before getting back to something by Ocean. In the first 10 songs I heard on his channel, three were off "Blonde," two were by Drake, and the rest were by a potpourri of artists like J. Cole, Chris Brown and The Weeknd. In the next 10 tracks, none were off "Blonde."

One possible trick: In the past, Pandora tended to suppress songs by the artist that the channel is based on. That means, counterintuitively, that a surer way to hear Ocean's songs may be to create a station based on musicians similar to him, like Drake or J. Cole, rather than listening to Ocean's Pandora channel itself.

Confusing complications like these are one of the reasons Pandora is pushing to launch its own on-demand-style service this year, along the lines of Apple Music.

One-off exclusives are streaming music services' preferred weapon as they battle for supremacy, because the music industry has largely insisted all services offer the same overall catalog for the same general price. But the success of "Blonde" may have marked the beginning of the end of exclusives like it.

"Blonde" was released Saturday on Ocean's own label, a day after the artist fulfilled his contractual obligations with Universal Music Group. The chief of UMG, the biggest record label in the world, has since reportedly instructed executives to cease streaming exclusives globally.

Apple scored a big win with "Blonde," Ocean's first album in four years. The gadget giant has held an exclusive grip on it since its release. Billboard reported this week that "Blonde" is expected to debut on its Billboard 200 chart at No. 1 when its sales numbers for the week are tallied Friday.