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Spotify, Universal Music renew license deal, with a twist

The top subscription music service will keep tunes from the world's largest label, but artists can limit new albums to paid users only for two weeks.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Spotify and UMG agree to a multiyear licensing deal.

Photothek via Getty Images

Listen up, Spotify free users: You may be out of the loop when a new album is getting the most buzz.

Spotify, the world's biggest subscription music service, will keep ahold of tunes from the world's biggest record label, Universal Music Group, but now its artists can decide to make full albums available to paid members only for two weeks.

The UMG deal won't give Spotify any exclusives on new albums versus competitors like Apple Music or Tidal, but it will put up a velvet rope around new records that keeps out anyone who listen to Spotify free with ads.

Spotify and UMG announced the multiyear global license agreement Tuesday, which means the streaming service will continue to have access to the catalogs of artists like U2, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. But in a change, Spotify will give musicians the option to release full albums for people paying $10 a month for Spotify's premium tier at first.

Singles will be available to all of Spotify's users upon release, whether they're paying or not.

"We know that not every album by every artist should be released the same way, and we've worked hard with UMG to develop a new, flexible release policy," Daniel Ek, chairman and CEO of Spotify, said in a statement.

That's a shift for Spotify, which previously has been vocally opposed to exclusives. Its executive in charge of services for creators has called them "bad for artists, bad for consumers and bad for the whole industry" in an interview with Billboard. But Spotify's stance in the past has focused on platform-specific releases, such as Frank Ocean or Drake releasing new albums on rival Apple Music only.

The latest deal still lets other streaming services license the same records, but it means free Spotify listeners could be out of luck when a new release is getting the most hype.

Update, 3:20 p.m. PT: Adds more details about full-album exclusives for premium members.

Watch this: Spotify to hold back new albums? Netflix to ditch star ratings