Jay Z held a star-studded press conference in New York yesterday to promote the relaunch of his streaming site Tidal. But it didn’t go down well with fans who are angry over the maximum monthly charge of £19.99 for the service.
There was a lot of speculation before the press conference about what Jay Z would announce. New albums from Jay Z, Kanye West and Rihanna were all rumoured. Another smart guess came from the hashtag that musicians were using to tweet about Tidal: #TIDALforALL. Maybe Jay Z’s streaming site would launch a free tier so that everyone could use it.
In the end, the press conference was a surreal, awkward affair. Lots of famous people stood around while Alicia Keys shouted about music. Then they signed a bit of paper, making vague promises to fix music. Madonna mounted a table while the crowd took photos on their iPhones. Nobody released any albums, and Tidal certainly isn’t free, either.
So what is Tidal really about? If you cut through the glossy promotional videos that Jay Z got his famous friends to tweet out, the actual intention behind Tidal becomes quite clear.;
Sure, Madonna might claim that Tidal addresses “a universal LAW. Somewhere-Somehow-Someone has to pay. There is always an exchange. #truth. #tidal.” And Kanye West may think that Tidal is “the beginning of a new world.” But the reason why musicians like Tidal so much is simple: They’re getting paid more.
Jay Z gave an interview to Billboard magazine where he discusses the reasoning behind the Tidal relaunch. The interview gives us our most in-depth look at the musician’s plans for the service, as he didn’t speak at his press conference.
Here’s the key quote from Jay Z’s Billboard interview:
Will artists make more money? Even if it means less profit for our bottom line, absolutely. That’s easy for us. We can do that. Less profit for our bottom line, more money for the artist; fantastic. Let’s do that today.
Tidal operates two pricing tiers. There’s a standard $US9.99 per month plan, which is comparable to other streaming sites like Spotify. Venturebeat says that artists won’t actually receive more money from that plan. But then there’s also the expensive plan, which is $US19.99 per month. That gives Tidal customers access to high-resolution audio, and more exclusive content. It also means that musicians can get paid a bigger cut of the revenue from streaming plays.
Another reason that Jay Z gives for relaunching Tidal is the increased creative control that Tidal will gave to musicians. He says that musicians will be able to release 18 minute songs, but doesn’t actually explain how artists will get that past their record labels. Instead, he says that Tidal will simply give musicians “freedom” to make longer songs.
Jay Z has launched Tidal right in the middle of an arms race between rivals Spotify and Apple. Spotify is trying to bring a huge roster of musicians to its platform, but is facing opposition from stars like Taylor Swift who feel that its free, ad-supported model devalues music. And then there’s Apple. Apple is using its acquisition of Beats to relaunch iTunes as a streaming service, hiring in top talent like radio DJ Zane Lowe to poach stars and bring them to its platform.
Is Jay Z worried about Apple? If he is, he’s not letting on. “I’m not angry,” Jay Z said. And here’s what Jay Z claims to have said to Jimmy Iovine, the cofounder of Beats who is now working on Apple’s music project: “Listen, Jimmy; you’re Jimmy Iovine, and you’re Apple, and truthfully, you’re great. You guys are going to do great things with Beats, but … you know, I don’t have to lose in order for you guys to win, and let’s just remember that.”
Sure, Jay Z leveraged his star power to create a line-up of the most famous people in music. And yes, the marketing campaign for the Tidal relaunch took over the internet for 24 hours. But Tidal’s real test will come in the weeks and months after its relaunch. Will Jay Z’s fans spend $US20 a month for slightly better audio quality and exclusive playlists? Will musicians be persuaded to bring their music to Tidal before Spotify? Right now, we don’t know — but Tidal is going to find out.