Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jay Z’s Tidal Is Great for Artists, But Maybe Not for Fans

Jay Z once bragged that he could sell fire in hell. Well, the music industry has been hell for a while now, and Jigga’s inner salesman is gearing up.
Jay took the stage with a powerhouse stable of artists—Madonna, Jack White, Kanye West, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk, Coldplay’s Chris Martin—Monday afternoon to announce the re-launch of the music streaming service Tidal. It’s an ambitious endeavor. All of the artists on stage are referred to as “co-owners” of the venture, and they promised—in the words of Keys, who led the remarks during the announcement—”a whole new era” for the music industry.
But a new era for who? On the surface, Tidal offers fans high-fidelity audio and video as well as curated content. But the service—the result of Jay Z’s purchase of streaming music service Aspiro for $56 million earlier this year—is also intended to give artists more control over their content. And that’s great and all, but if artists are forming their own walled garden and charging fans $20 every month for lossless audio ($10 for not-so-high-fidelity tracks), is this service for us, or them?
By offering windows of exclusive access to some artists, Tidal is clearly taking aim at streaming services like Spotify. And it’s true that artists don’t get the best returns when it comes to streaming, as Taylor Swift’s flight from Spotify showed last year. To that end, Jay Z is reportedly offering lots of cash and an equity stake to those who join him, and other artists are being promised double the standard streaming royalties for their music. But if a group of the most popular artists in the world start what is essentially their own label, and then pull their music off of other services, will that service be any better than the music industry it’s trying to unsettle? If it leaves fans with only one place to stream the new record by Rihanna or Kanye West—both of whom coincidentally are supposed to have new albums in the offing—then the answer is “no.”


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