Jay-Z’s Tidal has been accused of deliberately inflating streaming numbers for both Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, adding hundreds of millions of streams to their totals and paying excess royalties to the artists’ record labels as a result, in a report from Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, translated by Music Business Worldwide.
“Beyoncé’s and Kanye West’s listener numbers on Tidal have been manipulated to the tune of several hundred million false plays,” DN reports, “which has generated massive royalty payouts at the expense of other artists.” The paper bases this claim on a hard drive it obtained, said to contain “billions of rows of [internal Tidal data]: times and song titles, user IDs and country codes.” Tidal has challenged the veracity of the hard drive, but DN maintains that the numbers match information received by record labels during the time period in question: “In the Life of Pablo month, February 2016, Tidal customers supposedly listened to a total of 758,745,952 songs, according to the numbers on the hard drive. In the record company’s payment reports, the total is [also] 758,745,952 songs.”
DN also support their claims with an assist from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Center for Cyber and Information Security, who forensically investigated the Tidal play data and found that “there has in fact been a manipulation of the [Tidal] data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums.” The CCIS report finds that “various methods” were used to alter streaming totals, noting, “Given how targeted and comprehensive the manipulation is, it is highly improbable that the manipulation could solely be the result of a code-based bug or other anomaly,” and concluding, ”[It] is highly likely that the manipulation happened from within the streaming service itself.”
Further, DN reports that Tidal’s legal team attempted to shut down the CCIS study, claiming that the newspaper “lied to NTNU and falsified the underlying data to procure a ‘study’ which suited their foregone conclusions.” Tidal attorney Jordan W. Siev of Reed Smith is quoted as saying, “Tidal believes that the data the report is based on is stolen, incomplete for the relevant periods, that DN has changed the data and has lied to NTNU about the origin and content of the data.”
The resulting record company royalty payments, reports on which DN claims to have gained access to, reveal that Tidal paid Sony $2.5 million for Lemonade across April and May of 2016, and Universal around $2.4 million for The Life of Pablo in February and March of that same year.
Tidal has strongly denied “manipulating streaming figures or tampering with royalty payments,” per DN. The newspaper has also accused Tidal of inflating its subscriber numbers in the past, claims (which were supported by research from British firm Midia) that the streaming service has also denied.
Tidal, Jay-Z and Beyoncé have yet to respond publicly to DN’s latest report.