Jay Z likes to do things personally. So one day in March he sat down and dialed the phone numbers of some of the users of his new music-streaming service, Tidal.
Staff at Roc Nation, Jay Z’s sports- and entertainment-management company, listened as fans reacted with shock to phone calls from Jay Z. “This is the best customer service call I’ve ever received,” one fan exclaimed.
Some of Jay Z’s musician friends also made calls, including Jack White. They wanted to emphasise that Tidal was all about a personal connection between musicians and their fans.
But Jay Z didn’t stop there. He also called up the band Mumford & Sons, who previously criticised Tidal in an interview. The band referred to Jay Z and his fellow Tidal supporters as “new school f—— plutocrats,” but they changed their minds after a phone call from one of the most powerful men in rap music. “I get it much better now,” lead singer Marcus Mumford said. “It’s sort of an old-school record store. Which I like, now that I understand the vision.”
Clearly, Jay Z has influence in the music industry, and he has used that power to assemble an all-star cast for his streaming service. It’s the line-up of world-famous musicians that has been Tidal’s biggest selling point, but, as one streaming expert told us, it could also be its undoing.
At the start of January, before Jay Z got his hands on it, Aspiro AB was a niche European media-technology company known mainly for its high-end, expensive music-streaming service called WiMP. It had grown up in the years before the iPhone, providing services for Nokia and Ericsson feature phones. It was a tiny player in the music-streaming world, and nobody paid much attention to it.
By the end of March, Aspiro had become one of the most talked-about technology companies in the world. It was acquired by Jay Z, had been the subject of a secret meeting in California attended by Daft Punk, Kanye West, and Rihanna, and was then catapulted into the mainstream at a star-studded press conference.
But the backlash began soon after, as the company was forced to deal with the departure of a series of key executives. It also got sued by one of the record labels it was hoping to help and was immediately eclipsed by the launch of Apple Music. Fans remain largely confused as to why Tidal even exists — it offers streaming music at twice the price of Google, Apple, and Spotify.
This is the full story of how Jay Z took over an obscure Scandinavian telecoms company in the hopes of staging a revolution on behalf of artists who feel they aren’t being properly paid in a world where no one buys CDs anymore.
It has not gone smoothly.
Aspiro started life as a company based on an old mobile-phone technology
If you used a mobile phone to browse the internet back in 2003, then you probably did so using a technology called wireless application protocol (WAP). It let older mobile phones download data using their cellular service. It was a precursor to the much faster networks that we use today.
Jörgen Adolfsson, Christer Månsson, and Klas Hallqvist, the team who went on to create Aspiro, met in 1995 while they were working at Europolitan, one of the biggest telephone networks in Sweden.
Adolfsson and Månsson moved to Oslo in Norway, where they became aware of WAP and the companies that were starting to build businesses using the technology. They left Europolitan and convinced Hallqvist to join them.
Aspiro offered a range of different services using WAP and text messages. It didn’t sell its services direct to consumers, but instead sold them onto mobile networks that could include it as part of their bundles. Aspiro developed interactive games, ringtones, horoscopes, even a system to send fax messages from your phone.
Aspiro grew quickly thanks to partnerships with European phone manufacturers such as Ericsson and Nokia. Those companies were selling vast amounts of old-fashioned feature phones in Europe, so Aspiro’s products reached millions of customers.
Adolfsson and Månsson wanted to live and work in Malmö in Sweden, so Aspiro’s first office was set up there. But Hallqvist wasn’t so keen and preferred Karlskrona, which is 100 miles northeast of Malmö. That wasn’t a problem; Aspiro just opened an office there too.
WiMP became a niche streaming service loved by audiophiles
Aspiro focused on WAP for years, and it developed new services for the mobile network that was quickly becoming antiquated. But it also branched out into other online services, including music news and search engines.
The most important decision in Aspiro’s history was the development of a music-streaming service built in conjunction with Platekompaniet, a Norwegian retail chain that sells CDs and DVDs.
WiMP, as Aspiro’s music-streaming service was called, did something different from its competitors. It emphasised high-quality audio, streaming at higher bit rates than Rdio and Spotify. That helped it appeal to an older, more affluent, demographic that was more willing to pay a higher price for better-quality music.
The new music-streaming service was a hit, and Aspiro launched it across Europe. It used the same strategy that it used for its WAP business to rapidly scale up the business: Aspiro struck deals with telecoms companies and hardware manufacturers to pick up customers who wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of the product.
“WiMP” was rather a strange name for a music-streaming service in English-speaking countries, so it was renamed “Tidal” for those locations. The actual database of music and pricing was unchanged.
Aspiro kept on shuffling CEOs
Since Jörgen Adolfsson was replaced as the first CEO in 2000, Aspiro had seen many different executives take the helm of the company. Longterm Aspiro employee Peter Tonstad became CEO of the company in 2012. He had previously worked as a consultant to the Norwegian environment ministry and as a sales executive for Reuters in Norway. He took over the running of Aspiro at a time when its music-streaming service was growing.
But a new, younger CEO eventually took over running Aspiro. Andy Chen used to be the CEO of Preview Networks, a video-distribution company that was acquired by Rightster in 2013. He’d also worked as a mentor at startup accelerator Seedcamp, as well as at Viacom.
Chen joined Aspiro in 2013 and served as the CEO of the WiMP music-streaming service. He eventually took over the entire company in January 2014. Tonstad became Aspiro’s chief commercial officer.
Chen was an experienced public speaker who was comfortable getting up on stage and extolling the virtues of WiMP’s high-resolution music-streaming service. Aspiro didn’t feel like an old-school telecoms company anymore; this time, it was a tech startup out to disrupt the music industry.
Business Insider spoke to Chen in March. He told us that Aspiro’s customers loved the way WiMP and Tidal curated music using actual people, rather than algorithms:
The legacy really comes from WiMP, which has always been known amongst music-lovers as the guys from the record shop. The guys that used to go into record shops, and then you say ‘I like this, but can you make some recommendations?’ Many, many moons ago I used to be a DJ myself and one of the terms that DJs use when you go record-shopping is ‘crate-digging,’ so you dig through all the crates, and you spend hours listening, and you ask the guys from the record shop for recommendations. That was really a legacy and many of our editors, even until today, they have an enormous amount of appreciation and knowledge of the different genres of music, and the evolution of different genres and artists so the legacy from WiMP has always been that.
Jay Z decided to get into music streaming
Despite going down well with hardcore music fans, Aspiro was struggling financially. The 2014 year-end financial report gave a gloomy outlook: “The company is not fully funded for the coming twelve months.” The report continued, stating that, “the Board is considering various funding alternatives.”
The story of Aspiro becomes really surreal on January 30, 2015. That was the day when American rapper Jay Z published a press release via “Project Panther Bidco Ltd,” a company he had set up with the sole purpose of buying a music-streaming site.
Jay Z’s company said that it believed Aspiro to be “an innovative high-quality company with strong future growth potential.” It was offering the equivalent of $56 million (£36 million) for the company, an offer that Aspiro’s majority shareholder, Norwegian media company Schibsted, immediately accepted.
Here’s how Project Panther explained its bid:
Panther believes that the recent developments in the entertainment industry, with the migration to music and media streaming, offers great potential for increased entertainment consumption and an opportunity for artists to further promote their music. Panther’s strategic ambition revolves around global expansion and up-scaling of Aspiro’s platform, technology and services.
But it wasn’t a done deal. See, Aspiro was publicly listed on the Swedish stock exchange, and the deal required all of Aspiro’s other shareholders had to accept the offer too. Aspiro had known about Jay Z’s acquisition attempt since December 3, so its majority shareholder was ready. But other investors had to decide whether Jay Z would be the right fit for Aspiro.
Jay Z is more than just a rapper
Jay Z, born Shawn Carter in Brooklyn, New York, in 1969, started his rap career in 1994 when he appeared as a “hype man” for other rappers and took part in rap battles with other performers. He started selling CDs from his car, and eventually scored a deal with the influential music label Def Jam Records.
It wasn’t a smooth ride to the top, though. Jay Z was arrested on suspicion of stabbing record executive Lance Rivera at a party because he believed that he had been creating unlicensed copies of his latest album. He initially pleaded guilty to the charges, but later accepted a misdemeanour charge and he received a three-year probationary sentence.
Jay Z has also admitted dealing drugs as a teenager. Here’s what he told Vanity Fair magazine in 2013:
I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer. To be in a drug deal, you need to know what you can spend, what you need to re-up. Or if you want to start some sort of barbershop or car wash — those were the businesses back then. Things you can get in easily to get out of [that] life. At some point, you have to have an exit strategy, because your window is very small; you’re going to get locked up or you’re going to die.
But as well as music, Jay Z has also built a career as an entrepreneur and investor. He cofounded the Rocawear clothing line, co-owns the 40/40 line of bars and clubs, and acquired the Armand de Brignac champagne company.
Jay Z’s biggest business, though, is Roc Nation, his entertainment company started in 2008. It helps organise live shows, promote boxing, and manage musicians and sports stars. Roc Nation boasts an impressive roster of talent, including executives from established music labels.
It took a while to get the deal done
A group of minority shareholders in Aspiro grouped together to try and block the deal. Investors who together owned just over 10% of the company issued a statement saying that they would not authorise an acquisition by Jay Z: “We will recommend our members say no to the offer. We have accumulated more than 10 per cent of the owners, which is enough to block it.”
But Fredrik Bjørland, chairman of Aspiro’s committee for the Project Panther bid, hit back at the minority shareholders, explaining that accepting Jay Z’s offer was the only way the company could continue:
In my opinion, the recommendation to not accept the offer involves high risk, as it is well known that Aspiro is currently unprofitable and in need of capital within 12 months, and the current majority shareholder has indicated it is not willing to support this capital need. We thus believe accepting a 60% bid premium is a far better risk/reward recommendation.
Eventually the minority shareholders gave in. “We have together with the major shareholders decided that it is best to accept the bid,” they said in an emailed statement. That left the path clear for Jay Z to move forward and complete his acquisition of Aspiro, which happened at the end of March.
There was a secret meeting of some of the biggest names in music
Jay Z hosted a secret meeting of future Tidal investors, artist managers, and record labels in Los Angeles in February. The stars were all in town for the Grammy Awards, held on February 8, and so Jay Z took the chance to meet with his friends about music streaming. Entertainment news site Showbiz 411 heard about the secret meeting and published a list of names that were in attendance. All of the artists listed would go on to publicly back Tidal.
Showbiz 411 writer Roger Friedman wrote that the meeting was “lively,” and that Kanye West was “out of control.” In fact, Jay Z reportedly joked to attendees that he was West’s “interpreter.” Rihanna apparently arrived late to the meeting, only turning up when it was nearly over.
The venue for Jay Z’s private music-industry summit was The Fig House in Los Angeles. Jay Z booked the entire venue, which often plays host to weddings and corporate retreats. It’s situated in Pasadena, northeast Los Angeles, a quiet part of the city.
Hype started building for Jay Z’s music-streaming service on March 30 when musicians began turning their social-media profiles light blue in anticipation of the relaunch of Aspiro’s streaming service. The posts made it clear that the WiMP name had been dropped, and Jay Z’s streaming site would be called Tidal.
Jay Z held a celebrity-filled press conference in New York
The March 30 press conference was meant to be the opportunity for Tidal to reboot its public image and present itself as a major player in the world of music streaming. “New York,” as Tidal staff referred to the press conference, was held at Skylight in Moynihan Station, located inside in New York’s James A. Farley Post Office in midtown Manhattan. Journalists and industry figures packed into the space in preparation for the press conference.
The modern event space featured areas where guests could try Tidal on expensive headphones, as well as a bar serving Jay Z’s favourite $49 D’USSE cognac, and a giant screen above the stage that displayed tweets from fans of the musicians who had been promoting the event.
It kicked off with an explanation of what music is, and where it came from. The event space was lined with photos of music icons like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. Roc Nation executive Vania Schlogel (who was a new face to most attendees) said that Tidal was a music service owned by artists that promised to “continue to evolve” music.
Schlogel also announced that Tidal would support offline playing of music, just like Spotify. The relaunched streaming site would be based around exclusive music and video content, as well as special live events for subscribers.
But the most important part of the press conference wasn’t Schlogel’s speech; it was the stream of world-famous musicians who showed up to publicly back Jay Z’s new project.
The stars had been waiting in the backstage area with a host of famous names. Director Baz Luhrmann was there, and so were musician Swizz Beatz, jewellery designer Jennifer Fisher, producer Chris Ivery, Roc Nation cofounders TyTy Smith and Jay Brown, music writer Lisa Robinson, and Def Jam CEO Steve Bartels.
Musicians were instructed to line up in alphabetical order before walking on stage. Deadmau5 was moved at the last minute because, like French electronic-music duo Daft Punk, he was wearing a large helmet. Billboard reports that Beyoncé was unhappy with being made to line up alphabetically and said, “I’m not going to be with my husband?”
Schlogel invited the musicians on stage one by one:
- Alicia Keys
- Win Butler and Regine Chassagne from Arcade Fire
- Calvin Harris (appearing via a video call)
- Chris Martin from Coldplay (who was also there via a video call and shared a screen with Calvin Harris)
- Daft Punk
- Jack White
- Jason Aldean
- J. Cole
- Jay Z
- Kanye West
- Nicki Minaj
There’s no denying that it was an impressive lineup. One member of Daft Punk even referred to it as “the Avengers of music” during the Fig House meeting. Jay Z had roped in an impressive collection of musicians to back his project, and their fan bases could be relied upon to try out Tidal.
The press conference featured a video filmed at the Fig House meeting in Los Angeles in February. In it, the multimillionaire musicians who had become Tidal investors demanded changes to the music industry that essentially gave them more power and control. “Right now they’re writing the story for us,” Jay Z said in the promotional video, “we need to write the story for ourselves.”
Music-streaming researcher Dr. Todd Green, a professor at the Goodman School of Business at Brock University, is also critical of Tidal’s New York relaunch. He told Business Insider that “the true criticism of Tidal went back to the launch. They started out on the wrong foot from the beginning.”
Musician Alicia Keys gave a rambling speech about the power of music, quoted Jimi Hendrix, mispronounced “Nietzsche,” and joked about the event feeling like a graduation. Then, the assembled musicians signed a “declaration“:
Every movement throughout history began with a few individuals banding together with a vision, a vision to change the status quo.
That vision came to life with a first step. Our first step begins today through the platform TIDAL.
TIDAL is an artist majority owned company with a mission to reestablish the value of music, the protection of the sustainability of the music industry rooted in creativity and expression.
Just as our vision is to introduce change to the current system, during the upcoming months we will continue to expand this platform into an all-encompassing destination. We are working diligently everyday to enhance the overall service.
Today, the site encompasses high quality sound, video, exclusive editorial but there are more features on the way. In time, TIDAL will be not just a streaming service but a platform with enhanced experiences.
With TIDAL we are making a commitment to build a platform that reflects ideas contributed directly from artists, providing an enriched experience. Music presented and heard the way the artists intended.
We want our mission with TIDAL to spark conversation and lay a foundation for tomorrow’s burgeoning star.
Our movement is being led by a few inviting all to band together for a common cause, a movement to change the status quo…
Today marks the next step …
The declaration isn’t a legal contract, and it wasn’t explained during the event what it meant, or even what it said. Attendees of the press conference just knew that the musicians were signing something. Some people in the audience even laughed. Things got more surreal when Madonna mounted the table as she signed the declaration.
Jay Z and the other musicians stood silently on stage for five minutes while the declaration was signed, and posed for photos afterwards. But Jay Z was eventually distracted by something and kept talking and gesticulating to offstage employees.
The awkwardness continued after the event when Jay Z talked to the press. He told Billboard that “people are not respecting the music, and devaluing what it really means. People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water. You can drink water free out of the tap, and it’s good water.”
Journalists and amused fans took to Twitter to mock Jay Z’s ignorance of the fact that people pay taxes and fees to have a company make water come out of your tap. An executive from a water company even wrote an open letter to Jay Z, reminding him that it costs money.
And the controversy over Tidal’s New York press conference didn’t stop there. VentureBeat noticed that Radiohead song “The National Anthem” played during the press conference as the attendees signed the declaration, but the version of the livestream available to stream on Tidal afterwards had cut the song out. Had Jay Z’s new music streaming service, which claimed to champion the rights of musicians, used a song that it didn’t have rights to? We don’t know for sure, but Radiohead singer Thom Yorke is famously opposed to music streaming, having told The Guardian in 2013 that streaming is “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.”
Musician The Haxan Cloak also publicly accused Jay Z of ripping off his work in the promotional videos released during the New York press conference. He claimed that videos of the Fig House meeting used two tracks that sounded very similar to his own music. “This is so shameful,” he said in one tweet. “Thanks for not getting in touch and ripping me off, Tidal.” He later deleted all tweets criticising Tidal, and his music is now available to stream on the site.
Tidal’s CEO was forced out
The backlash against Tidal began in earnest after the New York press conference. The musicians on stage had promised to revolutionise the music industry, but customers just saw a streaming service with a £19.99 tier that was double what Spotify charges. BGR published an article that branded Tidal “a spectacular flop,” pointing out that its iOS app had plummeted down the App Store chart from the top 20 to a point where it wasn’t even in the top 700 most popular apps.
And there was one big name missing from Tidal’s New York press conference: Andy Chen. Aspiro’s CEO had persuaded his board to accept the acquisition offer and served as the public face of the company for years. Why, then, was Vania Schlogel, an executive from Roc Nation, on stage introducing Tidal to the world?
The answer emerged on April 17. Chen was out, and Swedish news site Breakit claimed that 25 employees in Aspiro’s Norway office had also been “forced to leave.” Tidal denied the job cuts, however, referring to them as “redundancies” and “streamlining.”
Tidal quickly rushed out a statement. It said that Tidal had a new “interum CEO [sic]” called “Peter Norstad.” There was no such person working at Tidal. The company corrected itself, stating that Aspiro’s former CEO Peter Tonstad was returning as interim CEO while it searched for a permanent leader. There was even a small dig at Chen included in the statement, as it said that Tonstad had “a better understanding of the industry” than his predecessor.
April was the month when the real work began on Tidal. It now had an office in Norway, as well as support from Roc Nation in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Roc Nation executive Schlogel became Tidal’s chief investment officer, and told Business Insider that Jay Z worked “every day” on Tidal. It was a “life project” for him, Schlogel said. “The reason that we’re doing this, and the artists are doing this, is because there’s a mission behind it, and so the execution of that mission is incredibly important.”
We asked Schlogel what it was like to be working with Aspiro. Here’s what she said:
It’s been really exciting. We feel like we’ve inherited such a great group of people with Tidal. And I think the excitement is mutually felt, and, in fact, I don’t just think, I know that because the types of conversations, ‘Hey I’m so excited to be doing this,’ and ‘I’m working longer hours, but I don’t even mind because this is so exciting what we’re putting up, and what we’re basically able to give to the subscribers of Tidal.’
We’re building really close relationships with the team, and I think that’s felt mutually. There’s a lot of respect at how smart people are — how hard they’re working. So if I can summarise the changes, probably the hours are longer, but maybe the work is a bit more interesting. I don’t know, I can’t say because I wasn’t there before.
Jay Z also set about reorganising the board of Tidal to place loyal executive and lawyers in control of the company. The existing board was let go, and replacements were brought in. Tidal has refused to reveal who is on its board, but here’s a list of rumoured names via Breakit:
- Lior Tibon, a senior member of staff at Roc Nation in London.
- Katsambas Panagiotis, a lawyer based in London
- Kashyap Bakhai, a tax lawyer who serves as treasurer for Jay Z’s foundation
Jay Z tries to set the record straight
Jay Z took to Twitter on April 26 to air his views on Tidal. “Stream of consciousness coming in 5, 4, 3, 2,” he tweeted, before launching into a defence of Tidal. He claimed that the streaming service was “doing just fine,” and that it had over 770,000 subscribers. That’s certainly true, but a press release published by Aspiro reveals a fuller story than Jay Z’s tweets. Tidal itself had just 17,000 users as of January 31. The bigger service, WiMP, had 486,000 users, with 391,000 of them coming through partnerships with companies such as carriers. That means just 91,000 users had actually sought out WiMP and subscribed to it.
Another view that Jay Z made clear in his Twitter “stream of consciousness” was that he felt that other music-streaming services were out to get him. He accused “big companies” of “spending millions on a smear campaign.” Tidal employees suggested via email at the time that Jay Z was referring to rivals like Apple and Spotify. However, both companies deny the accusation.
Tidal employees weren’t aware that Jay Z was going to make a public statement about the company. It seems that it really was a stream of consciousness.
The return of “Jaÿ-Z”
There’s a long and complicated history surrounding the hyphen in Jay Z’s name. First he had a “y” with an umlaut and a hyphen. Then the umlaut disappeared, and these days he doesn’t even have a hyphen. But Jay Z brought back all the extraneous punctuation for two New York “B-Sides” concerts exclusively for Tidal subscribers on May 16 and May 17.
The two shows served a dual purpose. First of all, they pleased fans with rare songs from Jay Z’s back catalogue. Second, they promoted Tidal to the world and were a declaration of Jay Z’s continued support in his music-streaming service.
It wasn’t enough to simply defend Tidal, though. Jay Z took it one step further. He hit out at rival music-streaming services in a freestyle rap performed during the shows. Here are the relevant sections:
I don’t take no check. I take my respect
Pharrell even told me go with the safest bet
Jimmy Iovine on for the safety net
Google dig around a crazy check
I feel like YouTube is the biggest culprit
Them n—– pay you a 10th of what you supposed to get
You know I came in this game independent right?
Tidal, my own label, same difference
Oh, n—– is sceptical when it’s their own s—
You bought nine iPhones, and Steve Jobs is rich
Phil Knight is worth millions. You still bought them kicks
Spotify is nine billion; they ain’t say s—
Jay Z suggested that Google offered him money to partner with its own streaming service, but hinted that he was upset with music appearing on YouTube (and the diminished revenue he receives from it).
And in case you weren’t at the B-Sides shows and missed Jay Z’s angry freestyle, he uploaded it onto Tidal afterwards so that all of his users could hear it.
Spotify wasn’t worried about the threat from Tidal, however. Chairman Martin Lorentzon was asked about the launch of Tidal during the STING Day conference in Stockholm in May. “I’ve got 99 problems — and Jay Z ain’t one,” he responded jokingly.
Key executives have been leaving
There was more bad news for Tidal on June 23 when interim CEO Peter Tonstad left the company. He never gave a public statement, instead telling Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv that “the only thing I can confirm is that I have resigned.”
Vania Schlogel, Tidal’s chief investment officer and the host of the service’s New York press conference, seemed to be a contender for CEO. She was a loyal employee of Roc Nation, and had worked under Jay Z for years. But Schlogel quietly dialled back her involvement with the company, failed to attend conferences, and eventually told The New York Times that she left Tidal in the summer.
Two more key executives have also left Tidal. US sales and marketing manager David Solomon left Tidal in July after 10 months at the company. A press release sent by Tidal when Solomon was hired called him “one of the world’s leading evangelists for high-quality music streaming” and “one of the true visionaries in the field.” However, Tidal told Business Insider that Solomon was only employed as a consultant.
Another high-profile departure has been Zena Burns, who worked as Tidal’s senior vice president of label and artist relations. She was with the company for just two months. Tidal acted fast to replace her, though, and hired Timothy Patrick Riley, who was previously global head of music at the video-game publisher Activision/Blizzard.
Eventually, after over 100 days without a CEO, Tidal announced that former SoundCloud chief business officer Jeff Toig would become Tidal’s new CEO in January 2016. It was a clever hire — SoundCloud is in a similar position to Tidal. It’s a European music startup that’s becoming more high-profile and looking to present itself as a major player in the same league as Spotify and Apple Music.
Tidal is in a tricky situation
Tidal’s public image was savaged after the New York press conference, and it has spent months trying to recover.
There’s one recent piece of Tidal news that sums up where the company is right now. Music trade publication Hits Daily Double published a rumour that Jay Z was looking to quit Tidal because of rising costs. It didn’t seem plausible, and most people ignored it. But not Jay Z. The Tidal Twitter account publicly shut down the rumour.
Right now there are two big reasons why someone would sign up to Tidal: exclusive content from world-famous musicians and curated music.
Tidal also offers curated playlists and did so for years before its biggest competitors. But Apple and Spotify have now taken the lead when it comes to curation.
Apple Music, which launched after Tidal, has blown rival streaming services out of the water. It doesn’t just feature curation like Tidal does; it has an entire online-radio station with shows by stars like Josh Homme and Elton John.
Spotify has also been moving forward and developing new ways to bring in customers. It has launched playlists designed to surface up-and-coming music, and it is branching out into video.
Tidal isn’t giving up, though. It has signed up two more musicians to bring exclusive content to subscribers. Rapper Lil Wayne released “The Free Weezy Album” on Tidal in July. (It’s not actually free; you have to pay for a Tidal subscription to listen to it.) He also signed up as an investor in Tidal alongside the artists who appeared at the New York press conference. Tidal was promptly hit with a $50 million (£32 million) lawsuit from Cash Money Records, Lil Wayne’s record label. The label argued that Lil Wayne broke his contract by releasing his album on Tidal, but the label is also being sued by Lil Wayne for $51 million (£33 million) because he claims that it’s withholding money from him.
Another potential saviour for Tidal is Prince. Despite removing his music from streaming services, he’s a fan of Tidal, and he has agreed to release his new album exclusively through the service. He previously released his 2010 album, “20Ten,” in an exclusive deal with a selection of European newspapers. The album was poorly received by critics, although The Daily Mirror (one of the newspapers that partnered with Prince) compared it to his greatest hits.
Even Jay Z forgot about Tidal
The hype around Tidal has died down following the acquisition and relaunch. The general public has moved on. Surprisingly, even Jay Z forgot that Tidal existed.
Jay Z appeared in court in October as part of a lawsuit over his 1999 song “Big Pimpin.” The track allegedly used a sample from “Khosara Khosara” by Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi without Hamdi’s permission.
Jay Z explained that he simply came into the studio to record the lyrics, and producer Timbaland had already created the backing track.
During the trial, Jay Z was asked to explain what he does. Billboard quotes Jay Z as saying “I make music.” His attorney, Andrew Bart, asked him to elaborate on that statement: “I make music, I’m a rapper, I’ve got a clothing line, I run a label, a media label called Roc Nation, with a sports agency, music publishing and management. Restaurants and nightclubs … I think that about covers it.”
But Bart noticed that something was missing from his client’s list of businesses. “I’m not so sure. You have a music streaming service, don’t you?” he said. “Yeah, yeah,” Jay Z said. “Forgot about that.”
Is Samsung involved?
Jay Z was photographed visiting a Samsung office in Silicon Valley in October, a sign that the tech giant is either working with Jay Z on a new project, helping with Tidal, or possibly even acquiring the streaming service outright.
Jay Z and his entourage were photographed visiting the office of Samsung Research America, a building that also houses the company’s content division. Whilst there, Jay Z reportedly met with Daren Tsui, Samsung’s SVP of content and services. He’s also the man responsible for Samsung’s Milk music streaming service, and so would be the person at Samsung to talk to about a partnership between Tidal and the company.
Strangely enough, Jay Z has worked with Samsung on a project before. He signed a $20 million (£13.4 million) deal to bring his 2013 album “Magna Carta Holy Grail” to Samsung smartphones. Customers could download the album for free and listen to it days before it was available on iTunes and other services.
Even an all-star concert didn’t bring Tidal back to the mainstream
Tidal held its long-awaited Tidal X show in October, featuring a collection of A-list musicians, many of whom were co-owners of the service. But the concert failed to generate any excitement for the streaming service. The Verge branded it “impressive and hollow, just like Tidal.” And Vulture called the show “hurried” due toe the large number of musicians who were only able to perform a couple of songs.
There’s no denying that Tidal has come a long way from Aspiro’s innovative WAP services in 1998. The niche European startup is genuinely one of the most talked-about tech companies in the world, but it’s facing some incredibly tough competition. The next year is going to be crucial for music streaming, as Apple music is aiming to bring in 100 million subscribers, and Spotify is doing all it can to keep up. If Tidal is going to make an impact in the world of music streaming, then Jay Z is going to have to make a few more phone calls.