It isn't the streaming service's fault artists don't get paid, it’s the way $130 billion is being split between creators. And no, consumers needn’t spend another dime.
TIDAL … jeez-hus, where does one even begin trying to explain what an astronomical disaster the new streaming app is? From its confusing launch, to the waterslide of a dip in sales and downloads — along with the latest pouty Twitter rant from its owner — this thing is likely the worst company offering much of history has ever seen.
In early March, it was reported that Jay Z purchased a Norwegian tech company by the name of Aspiro for an amount some 99 percent of the world’s population will never see in a god-given lifetime. For $56 million, Hova [Jay Z] became the owner of said company, which mainly provides streaming music services under its two brands, WiMP and Tidal.
On its relaunch, Jiggaman [Jay Z] was joined with 16 of his closest, highest-paid celebrity friends on stage to dramatically sign a declaration claiming each of them were out to alter the status quo of music royalties and the relationship artists have with fans. The short, informationless video provides nothing to how the mission will happen, exactly, though whatever the result is to be, Jack White, Madonna, Usher, Nicki Minaj et al. are all reportedly behind it — and also shareholders in the idea.
Within 2 weeks of the hype, Tidal fell out of the top 700 on the US iPhone download chart, inadvertently boosted the sales of its competitors, became the ire of public opinion net-wide and is the obvious impetus for Iceberg Slim’s [Jay Z] toddler-style rant on Twitter this past weekend.
Criminy-christ-bobsledding-hell … what a disaster!
"I think they totally blew it by bringing out a bunch of millionaires and billionaires and propping them up on stage and then having them all complain about not being paid … That's why this thing is going to fail miserably."
– Ben Gibbard – Death Cab For Cutie
The initial shock to the service was bolstered when it announced a monthly price of $19.99/month to stream music online. The obvious competitors: Spotify (Free or $9.99/month for premium), Pandora (Free or $4.99/month for its “One” service) and RDIO (Free or $9.99/month), are all well below the $20 ticket and do exactly the same thing Tidal promises — all with the convenience of not switching or doing anything to an already habitual lifestyle.
The only real difference Tidal promises is a “lossless” quality of sound. As in it gives listener’s a higher quality audio track rather than the usual suspect that cuts out the audio fat to make for smaller files and faster streaming. The problem is, nobody can tell the difference — that perk doesn’t even matter.
In 2007, the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society published a study, which found that: Out of 60 subjects and 554 listening trials, only 49.82 percent of the time could the listeners tell the difference between a CD or high-resolution recording — the results suggesting they were guessing rather than making an informed choice.
So as much as audiophiles and tech geeks will preach about the limitless inner-ear prowess they may have, the reality is many of us will never notice the subtle nuances. That’s like a club dumping Kamchatka vodka into a Grey Goose bottle and selling it at a premium to make everyone think they’re balling out of control. An expensive headache is all any of it is.
"What I'm not into is the tribalistic aspect of it — people trying to corner bits of the market, and put their face on it. That's just commercial bullshit."
– Marcus Mumford – Mumford & Sons
But back to S-Dot’s [Jay Z] Twitter rant: Mr. Carter has only tweeted 20 times in 2015 — 15 of those are from this past weekend and are within minutes of each other in an attempt to defend Tidal and its current state. If the company is secure and “doing just fine” as Joe Camel [Jay Z] suggests, then why the tantrum?
It doesn’t help J-Hova’s [Jay Z] rant includes the now mocked #TidalFacts hashtag — because at least one of those “facts” is grossly misleading. “We have over 770,000 subs. We have been in business less than a month,” reads one tweet. Which, sure, WiMP and Tidal together all have that many paid subscribers (20,000 of those actually subscribe to the high-def feature), but what he fails to mention is that the company had 512,000+ paying users in March already when Lucky Lefty [Jay Z] took over.
Likewise, laying off 25 employees within weeks of a relaunch seems sketchy, at best, especially when one of those — who reportedly “stepped down” — is the former CEO Andy Chen. Understandably, companies do things like lay people off all the time for restructuring, but if there’s a PR issue at the helm, a CEO stepping off the sinking ship isn’t the best way to plug the holes.
But maybe Tidal and its multi-millionaire backers are genuinely coming from a pure place and legitimately want to change music payouts for artists. It is, at the very least, something that has to be considered, given most copyright laws the industry adheres to are close to a hundred years old already. Something has to give eventually.
Oddly enough, though, there’s never any mention of the leeching labels. These are the entities making all of the money — why no outrage from artists and fans alike towards the lock-rusting gatekeepers?
"… people are going to swarm back to Pirate sites in droves … If I wanted to be relevant or as rich as the #Tidal16, I wouldn't still be working in music."
Look at it like this: There are a lot of artists out there complaining about how much they get paid from the streaming environments. None, however, out their contracts with labels about how much the beasts cut from the initial platter — because they are contracts, and likely contain legalese that says something to the effect of ‘contracts are never to be discussed in the media’ or the like. Why should the consumers pay for an artist's signature below a shady agreement?
Have we so easily forgotten about Vulfpeck, the funk/rock act from Ann Arbor, Michigan that made $20,000 in Spotify stream payout from a silent album? The album “Sleepify” — which was nothing more than silence — was streamed by fans on repeat when they went to bed and garnered close to 5.5 million plays. After Spotify caught wind of the creative ploy, it took the album down, but still ponied up the $20k made from royalties.
This is an independent band with no contract, no middlemen or women and no check-sucking slimeballs — just music (or lack thereof) and an account. In sticking with a few simple math equations, it’s obvious Spotify adheres to its policies (and are surprisingly transparent about the amount they pay out each year). And if it willingly hands over that much to smaller acts, the top tier artists have to be making revenue through streaming, too — but where is it all going?
The #1 streamed song (as of right now) is Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” featuring Charlie Puth. It currently has 940,000+ streams a day, which roughly equates to $3,419.96 made in a 24-hour period using the low end of Spotify’s reported royalties.
The problem? The song has 5 listed writers, 3 producers, probably some studio musicians, a label, a PR team and many others that $3,500 is unfairly split between in a given day. It’s also the result of a publishing company commissioning the work of all parties involved to create a song for "Furious 7" — think the movie is getting a fair chunk of the revenue too?
Having a new streaming service come at consumers with the same debunked pity party of us having to foot the bill for more money to land in the pockets of already fattened capitalists is shitty. We’re not stupid and can math. We can all math so hard!
"Twenty dollars? That's like … four footlong sandwiches!"
– The Rooster Staff
It isn’t a revolution of higher premiums, or better quality sound, or celebrity product placements, or redundant smear campaigns from labels (and clueless singers) that the world needs. What we need — as music lovers and supporters — is visibility from what actually goes on behind closed doors. It isn’t our fault for pirating, it isn’t the streaming services' fault for trying to change the way we enjoy music and it certainly isn’t some 14-year-old girl’s fault for wanting to watch OneRepublic on YouTube. It’s the way $130 billion is being split between creators. And no, consumers needn’t spend another dime to "fix" the music industry.
For an even more heated bout of competitive fireworks, watch this summer when Apple rolls out its music streaming service on the shoulders of Dr. Dre’s Beats Music — a service that has the same catalog many of the other companies have already …
… except it’s rumored to be only charging $7.99/month when it does.
So long Tidal.