TIDAL – New Streaming Service, Same Big Players

Fear not music fans, for as you may have heard last week, Jay-Z and friends have a plan to save everyone from the scourge of free streaming music.

Bringing order to chaos with the power of star exclusives and high quality audio- just so long as you can cough up the cash.

This scheme- this Blueprint, if you will- is called TIDAL and if the press conference is to be believed, it’s some sort of utopian music streaming ark: to protect Jay’s music, and that of generations to come (but mostly of other, admittedly already successful, artists). 

l-r Usher, Rhianna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Dead Mau5, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Jay Cole

No one knows quite what to make of it. Everyone is sure of one thing: no one will take you seriously as an internet venture without a one-word name.

Giving a press conference, which was more notable for just how awkward performers can look on a stage, Jay-Z and co explained TIDAL. So what did we learn?

The press meeting was a slightly weird affair but presentation aside, TIDAL went fully public last week on March 30th with the libraries of the Big Three of the music industry- Sony, Warner and Universal-  as well as a number of other labels. Putting numbers on that: TIDAL’s library opened with 25 million tracks and over seventy thousand music videos. 

All those things come with a mandatory subscription though. You’re going to need to pay at least  $20 per month for the advertised Lossless streaming, or $10 per month for the basic service.

That bottom tier streaming will provide exactly the same file quality as Spotify Premium, at an identical price point (TIDAL has no free plan).

Given the fact that TIDAL’s launch numbers put it’s library marginally behind the competition (30 million on Spotify and Google Play; 35 million on Deezer), the big name partners behind it must be trusting in selling artist exclusivity as the real reason to pay for their product.

Funnelling fans to one platform by advertising content that’s not available to the general public seems designed to really test fan/consumer loyalty.

As far the backers of TIDAL are concerned, tying exclusivity to payment is just a novel method for trying to reassert control over a market that went free and feral with the internet.

Sony Music CEO Doug Morris was at least candid when he spoke to HITSDailyDouble earlier in March: “Basically, I equate ‘free’ with the decline of the music business”.

““Free has been way overdone, and the biggest culprit is YouTube, with their links to free sites. This has to be curbed if we’re going to have a successful business.”

Morris does see a future for streaming, but it is a paying one: “Why should anyone pay for anything if they can get it for free? In certain instances, it’s worth a discussion. But in general, free is death.”

So for all Jay-Z’s spin on the ownership structure including artists, there was a sense that this was something of an safe bet for the record companies; the confidence the major labels seem to have in TIDAL makes it look like a novel way for the established industry to beat their biggest free competitors into submission.

The announcement of time-limited exclusive content by some of the world’s biggest artists seems to suggest that plenty of others are desperate to protect their buck alongside Jay-Z.

Putting material from their biggest artists behind a paywall is going to be a make or break point for a lot of people no longer in the habit of spending substantial amounts on music.

TIDAL’s business plan, as of right now, seems to be solely catering to a certain kind of comfortably affluent ubertool: pushing safe household names and almost-nostalgic artists on these high-end consumers, who can afford to show off with their Bose&Olufsen Onanism mega-rig during a trendy dinner party: “Ya, you know, it’s great to finally have lossless music, you can really hear the difference on the chorus of Umbrella ” without a hint of self-awareness.

Tidal yuppie 2
TIDAL’s key market research partner?

It does make sense on some level: Most of the artists putting their names to Jay’s project are already well established, and a large number of their early fans will be entering, or are comfortably into, their thirties and professional careers.

Arcade Fire, Daft Punk and the rest, can bring in a generation they feel are reliable targets for a premium subscription service. 

That’s why everything flashy to come out of Monday’s public announcement seemed designed to appeal squarely to only one market: this is streaming for a new generation of young professional yuppies, the newest variation on the home-cinema/hifi money-shot of tech extravagance-as-culture.

For Jay-Z, this might seem like a brave new venture; an exciting struggle to support an industry he is so personally invested in. The man has, after all, legitimately (and sometimes not so legitimately) cemented his reputation as the middle aged Godfather of hip-hop, and as the canniest business man in the American music industry. 

But I can’t help feeling we’ve been gifted with front row seats to a disaster as the hype builds, begins to crest and then, like a wave, must come crashing down and then retreat. It’s difficult to feel too bad for a man whose net earnings for 2014 stood at $60 million though.

Lets hope that Jay never has to feel sad again; at how thoughtless, inconsiderate people could be so heartless as to practically steal the artisinal organic bread from his children’s mouths 

Jay Z

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