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The Gen Take on Tidal

With the dust settled on the Tidal press conference, The Gen aims for some perspective, exploring a few inconvenient truths about streaming.

If you have any interest in the music industry whatsoever, you’ll be aware that Jay Z re-launched his recently purchased ‘Tidal’ streaming service last week, flanked by a load of celebrity mates and the most awkward music press conference since, well…probably since ever, actually.

In fact, much like the so-called Tidal ‘exclusives’ from Daft Punk and Beyonce, you can watch it on YouTube here, noting that at the time of writing the video has significantly more dislikes than likes.

It all started innocuously enough, with a simultaneous wave of artist endorsement and promotion largely from Jay Z’s celebrity friends and collaborators including the likes of Rihanna, Kanye West, Coldplay, Jack White, Nicki Minaj and Madonna. Last Tuesday (31st March), these artists and more all took part in a Tidal twitter campaign, turning their profile pictures blue and using the hashtag #TIDALforALL.

Following the press conference later that evening, the tide turned on this hashtag and much more, with the main gripe seeming to be that a bunch of millionaire artists were basically saying that they should be paid more and wanted to “re-establish the value of music”. They proposed to do this by positioning Tidal as an ‘artist led’ high end streaming service that charges a premium monthly subscription of £19.99 (although they have also now introduced a £9.99 tier for a more ‘standard’ audio quality). Beyond that, it was all quite vague and unclear as to whether this would result in any meaningful exclusives, given that most artists involved are signed to or in some way funded by major labels (in some cases Spotify stakeholders).

The inconvenient truths ignored were that the man on the street could not care less about streaming quality or remuneration of artists. Anybody remember all of those years of relentless online piracy? A large chunk of Joe Public remains unconvinced that they should even pay for music at all and some think that services such as Tidal actually create a convenient argument back to such routes.

There is some great commentary and analysis already out there, in particular at Music Ally, Music Business Worldwide and The Guardian, all excellent reads.

We don’t want to simply add to the white noise, so here is The Gen’s two penneth and a further inconvenient truth, whether you think freemium is killing paid music or not- No-one has fired the silver bullet for streaming yet and yes, this includes Spotify with its 60 million global subscribers- Even the leader of the pack has some way to go in terms of user interface, curation of playlists, some areas of back catalogue, the growing issue of windowing for new releases and an arguably alienating pricing model- free and ad supported or £9.99 a month, with no grey areas in the great green sea.

Perhaps no music fan needs Tidal in their lives and Spotify was hardly the only game in town in what was already an overcrowded market. Certainly, no one needed a bunch of high profile artists moaning about how everyone should club together and pay more for streaming tracks. Or a damp squib of a press conference that should have at least been an entertaining media event powered by the ego, eccentricity and creativity in the room. The cynical view would be that Jay Z, as an extremely savvy businessman and entrepreneur is simply making an investment and already plotting the exit, leaving him and his friends (who all have equity in this ‘artist owned’ service) even wealthier when Tidal gets snapped up Beats
style by a competitor. However, a keen critical radar about each and every streaming service should be maintained until a company delivers on the promise of streaming as a true engine for artist revenues and a seamless, inclusive experience for the user. Until such a time, they all need to keep watching the throne.

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