The ongoing music streaming wars has a new army on the battlefield in the form of Jay Z and his recent acquisition, Tidal. Re-launched this week, he’s come out swinging with some impressive promotion tactics, namely a slew of tweets from Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Madonna to name just a few, who have all lent their support to the rapper’s new business endeavor. What we didn’t know until Monday’s press conference was that this slew of music superstars were now co-owners of the company.
Beyoncé, Kanye West, Drake, Chris Martin, Daft Punk, Jack White and Win Butler and Régine Chassagne of Arcade Fire are just some of the names that now have a stake in Tidal. The star-studded ownership says it will “to re-establish the value of music” with service for artists run by artists.
What makes Tidal different?
The lossless music streaming service is making some big strides in differentiating itself from several other streaming platforms, namely the big dog Spotify. You’ll remember last year that Taylor Swift infamously pulled her music from Spotify in a row over payments to artists. Well, she’s seems to be okay with Tidal and her music will be available on the refreshed site.
Meanwhile, the streaming service announced at its press conference on Monday that the re-launched streaming site will cut its monthly subscription fee from $19.99 to $9.99 for standard audio. “Same exclusive content, same access to the music & video,” it tweeted. Its $19.99 price tag will still exist for the HD audio content.
In January and February, Tidal also expanded to several new countries, mostly across Europe, just in time for the new re-launch. It’s certainly on the offensive.
Spotify is the company that should really be worried about the encroaching Tidal but that’s not to say that Rdio, Deezer, Google Play Music etc. shouldn’t be worried; far from it. However, it’s Spotify that has truly set a precedent for music streaming services, for better or worse depending on where you stand.
On first glimpse, you’d think Spotify has the leg up in the race and you’d be right to a degree. It has an established user base (60m active users); it offers a free service powered by ads and a premium service, which currently had 15m paying subscribers. Tidal on the other hand has no free service and is selling HD audio and music video streams through subscription services alone. However, the lossless file type is one of the company’s big selling points and through high-profile names behind it like Beyoncé and Kanye West, Tidal is hoping to appeal equally to audiophiles and casual music fans.
A Fairer Deal for Artists?
The main reason Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify was the payment system that, in her opinion, was unfair and lopsided against the artist. Spotify takes a cut of the streaming revenue, as too does the record label and in many cases the fee paid to the artist in the end can be a lowly pittance. Spotify’s fees have come under scrutiny too with millions of plays needed to yield just a couple of thousand dollars.
Swift isn’t alone in her thoughts on Spotify either. Through the years, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has criticized the company, once stating: “I feel like as musicians we need to fight the Spotify thing.”
Tidal bills itself as “artist-friendly”, which sounds all well and good but what exactly does it mean? Jay Z has some big names on board but right now, we know very little about the payments to artists that it will offer, in practice that is.
Payments to artists from the $19.99 subscriptions will be double that of “standard streaming royalties,” reports The Verge. The $9.99 rate will pay out the standard royalty rate and is likely to be the more appealing option for users so ultimately Tidal’s business model might not be that drastically different from Spotify’s, except for the latter’s free option of course. It’s something that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek still maintains is a great way to build a user base that eventually moves to the pay option.
Even more important than that, how will Tidal affect independent or smaller bands? It’s great that Kanye West is pro Tidal but he isn’t exactly struggling to cover recording costs or tours. It’s a very different playing field for a little-known band and again, could be very lopsided. Doubled pay outs could be a real incentive for drawing in bands to use the service but they’ll need to get the exposure to actually get some play and yield those dollars.
Right now, Tidal currently has 17,000 subscribers but expect to see that number jump in the coming days following this week’s high profile re-launch.
Exclusive album releases
It helps to have friends in high places and Jay Z has plenty. Not only is his cavalcade of super famous friends now co-owners, many are likely to play an active role in how the music is distributed rather than be silent partners. This means exclusively releasing albums on Tidal before releasing them on Spotify and other services. If Tidal is the first and only place (at least for a short period of time) to get the new Kanye album, or Jay Z album, or whatever artist it may be, that is one powerful edge over your competitors.
Just how Spotify and the rest react will be vital in this intensifying war but crucially, it will be a war fought over many years; not a short battle. There will be some defined short term winners and losers but long term, it’s all up in the air. Not to mention, Apple still hasn’t revealed its hand with iTunes and/or its vision for Beats yet. It’s a long road ahead for Tidal, but it has certainly made a splash.