Why the Idea of Tidal, Jay-Z’s Spotify (and Beats) Competitor, is Worth Supporting

Why the Idea of Tidal, Jay-Z’s Spotify (and Beats) Competitor, is Worth Supporting

Shane BarnhillTuesday,31 March 2015

The world gained a new streaming music service yesterday, as hip-hop and entertainment mogul Jay-Z relaunched Tidal, the music streaming service that he acquired in January as part of a $56 million purchase of Aspiro, a Swedish tech company. At a launch event in New York, Jay-Z was joined by a star-studded group of artists: Beyonce, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Madonna, Rihanna, Daft Punk, Usher, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, deadmau5, Jason Aldean, Nicki Minaj, Win Butler and Régine Chassagn of Arcade Fire, Jack White, Calvin Harris, and J. Cole. According to an interview that Jay-Z granted to Billboard, many of the artists are now “founding members,” which grants them equal ownership of the new venture.

I’ll admit, my first reaction to Tidal’s news was, “Ugh, not another streaming music service,” even though Tidal purports to offer a differentiated, high fidelity sound quality. But I began to feel differently after reading Billboard’s interview, in which Jay-Z states, “For someone like me, I can go on tour. But what about the people working on the record, the content creators and not just the artists? If they’re not being compensated properly, then I think we’ll lose some writers and producers and people like that who depend on fair trade. Some would probably have to take another job, and I think we’ll lose some great writers in the process. Is it fair? No. If you put in work, everyone else, you go to work you get paid. That’s fair trade. It’s what our country is built on.”

Granted, there’s a fair amount of marketing spin in that statement, but I have to give credit to Jay-Z and his team for at least taking on the problem of how streaming services are compensating artists. As consumers shift away from purchasing music and toward subscribing to streaming services, artist revenues have been under the spotlight. Spotify’s per-stream revenue payout, for example–which ranges from $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream, according to Time–provides lower per-song revenue for stars, and makes it nearly impossible for smaller acts to earn a living. Many artists–notably Radiohead’s Thom Yorke–have whined loudly about Spotify’s business model, but haven’t actually stepped up to help solve the problem in a meaningful way.

And I admit, for a while I felt pangs of guilt whenever I streamed a musician’s album once or twice and then deleted it from my Spotify collection. These artists weren’t getting a ton of money for album/song purchases in the music industry’s crummy sales model as it was, but 1-2 streams of an entire album might net them just two shiny nickels and rusty penny. However, artist complaints began to ring hollow for me when none of them–especially big acts with long careers and hordes of “fuck you money”–took the initiative to take a advantage of the shift toward streaming in a way that would benefit the real talent behind the music business.

But now, Jay-Z has done what Yorke and others before him have not. He’s bought a big service to ostensibly alter the payout model behind music streaming, ensuring that more dollars flow to creators when music is streamed on Tidal. His hope is that competition forces other streaming services to match Tidal’s payouts, thereby improving the music business for both large and small acts alike.

It’s a worthwhile goal, and one that I want to support as a consumer. But is Tidal’s streaming music service any good? Well, that’s a topic for another post.

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