Jay Z's TIDAL
He has sold 100m records, founded a business empire worth upwards of $520m
and married Beyoncé. Now, Jay Z, backed by a roll call of A-list friends, is fronting the relaunch of a music streaming website heralded as the first real challenger to Spotify.
Kanye West, Rihanna, Coldplay, Madonna, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and more threw their weight behind the rapper at a press conference last night where he unveiled the new look for Tidal, a streaming site originally launched by Norwegian firm Aspiro in October 2014 and acquired for $56m earlier this month by a company controlled by the music mogul.
It is planned that Tidal will compete with Spotify and upcoming streaming services from Apple and YouTube by offering exclusive music from prominent artists, including studio sessions and demo tracks, while giving them new ways to communicate with fans.
Musicians including Beyoncé, Deadmau5, Nicki Minaj and Jack White replaced their Twitter profile pictures with blank blue images while tweeting the #TIDALforALL hashtag ahead of the event in a show of online support.
“Together, we can turn the tide and make music history. Start by turning your profile picture blue,” Kanye West tweeted ahead of the event.
Alicia Keys described Tidal as “the first artist-owned global music and entertainment platform” and promised to “create a better service and a better experience for both fans and artists … where we will deliver exclusive experiences that cannot be found anywhere else”.
Tidal’s key selling point so far has been its “lossless” quality streams, for which the company charges a monthly subscription of £19.99 – double its rivals. It is available in 31 countries, with six more to follow by the end of June.
By the end of 2014, Tidal had 500,000 paying users. It will launch a £9.99 subscription model alongside its existing one.
Under Jay Z, Tidal’s strategy will include encouraging artists to lobby their labels to “window” new releases for at least a week, meaning they will be exclusive to Tidal for that period.
He told Billboard: “We didn’t like the direction music was going and thought maybe we could get in and strike an honest blow. 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.”
The company is not alone in this desire. Apple is planning to relaunch its currently US-only Beats Music streaming service worldwide later in 2015, and has been courting artists and labels intensely to secure exclusives.
With Google also waving its own chequebook – it struck a deal for
a month-long exclusive on Take That’s latest album for its Google Play Music service in November 2014 – there is set to be a bidding war for new albums by prominent artists.
Spotify has signed its own exclusives in the past with artists including Metallica and Led Zeppelin, and remains defiant that its scale – it is the biggest subscription streaming service, with 15 million paying customers and another 45 million free users – will ensure it does not miss out on new albums for long.
“We want all the world’s music on our service, but there has been sporadic windowing on Spotify since it was created. We know from experience that these things happen, they come and go,” said Spotify’s head of communications and public policy, Jonathan Prince.
“We continue to grow exponentially by delivering a great product for our users and the artists they love. Recent releases by Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Madonna and others show how critical it is for artists and labels to be on Spotify for their own success.”
Spotify is currently under pressure from some major music labels, Universal Music Group in particular, to convert more of its free users into paying subscribers. Some artists – including Taylor Swift, who pulled her music from Spotify – have also criticised the free streaming model.
Tidal will sidestep those arguments, since it does not have a free tier, a strategy also likely to be adopted by Apple.
Swift’s back catalogue is already available on Tidal, as it is on all other paid-for streaming services. “This has never been changed. Big Machine Records [Swift’s label] believes music has value and we do not believe Taylor’s music should be made available for free,” a spokesman for Swift said.
Not everyone is convinced that Tidal will revolutionise the music streaming market.
“This isn’t about transforming the streaming market, or suddenly taking it into the mainstream. I think Tidal is aiming to compete around, rather than with, Spotify,” Mark Mulligan of music industry consultancy MIDiA Research told the Guardian.
“It is aiming for a higher spending slice of the music aficionado market. Primarily this is about opening up new market segments, and the positioning is smart: it is creating an aspirational brand, which ties in well with the urban music community.”
Exclusivity is key to that ambition. But, despite Jay Z’s impressive contacts book, labels will make the final decisions on such deals. For now, at least. One report ahead of Tidal’s relaunch suggested that Jay Z sees the company as a modern day music equivalent of United Artists, the Hollywood studio founded in 1919 by a group of actors and directors as a way to control their own output.
Tidal’s long-term plan may be to sign big artists as their label deals run out, in which case it could become a rival not just to Apple and Spotify, but to major labels Universal, Sony and Warner.