Tidal’s Wave Of Criticism

Tidal, the subscription streaming music service Jay Z bought for $56 million earlier this year, recently made a U.S. debut during a star-studded – yet odd – news conference in New York.  

A-listers from BeyoncéJason AldeanJack White and Alicia Keys to Kanye WestRihannaMadonna, and others appeared on stage or via Skype during the event, going so far as to sign a declaration in support of the service.

Jay Z recently bought Aspiro, a Stockholm-based company that runs streaming music services WiMP and Tidal, with the latter including a website that has stories about various albums. Both offer a $9.99 per month for a base subscription or $19.99 per month to access high-fidelity tracks. Keys spoke for the group, emphasizing their hopes that Tidal – the “first ever artist-owned global music and entertainment platform” – would forever change the course of music history.

“We want to create a better service and a better experience for both fans and artists,” she said. “That is our promise to the world. Our mission goes beyond commerce, it goes beyond technology. Our intent is to preserve music’s importance in our lives.” In a promotional video during the event, Beyoncé was heard equating the force behind Tidal to this nation’s lengthy history of social protests.

“Every great movement started with a group of people being able to get together and really just make a stand,” she said. The sentiment seemed to hit the wrong note with many. Time called the event “embarrassingly out-of-touch” and The Huffington Post noted that “real market opportunity comes from deficits in existing music market structure that are experientially real to music consumers, not just elite artists. Rhetoric alone doesn’t make a powerful contender.” The Twitterverse also wasn’t buying it.

“I really enjoy when billionaires stand up for themselves #TIDALforALL #TIDALforNOONE,” wrote one man. “Hey everyone, there’s poverty, people dying and wars going on but that’s ok these champagne sipping pop stars are launching #TIDALforNOONE,” wrote another.

It’s too soon to tell whether Tidal, which features exclusive video content and curated playlists along with the higher-quality audio, will prove a formidable opponent against competing services. Spotify offers free, ad-supported streaming as well as a $10 per month subscription, but has faced criticism for not paying artists enough. Apple is introducing a paid service of its own.

Tidal claims 500,000 subscribers; Spotify claims 15 million subscribed listeners on top of the 60 million per month that listen through the ad-supported version. Spotify is also working on raising $500 million in capital. Vania Schlogel, a Tidal executive, introduced the press conference with the announcement that New Yorkers will be able to download music to their devices so they can listen on the subway – a curious pronouncement considering Spotify’s $10 service does just that.

Tidal may provide a reprieve for people like Taylor Swift, who yanked her entire catalog from the service last year over royalty rates. Schlogel told the New York Times the service would provide higher royalty rates to artists than services that have free tiers, which could be enough of a draw for some artists to commit to placing their music solely on Tidal. Some are skeptical that will happen. “I think Jay Z is about to find out the limits of his celebrity,” venture capitalist David Pakman told the Times.

“I am sure he will lure exclusive content onto the service but that will reach a limited audience.” No matter what the artists would prefer, it should be noted that record companies normally have the distribution rights to their music and will ultimately decide it should go on all streaming services of just the newest one.