When you're a 45-year-old mogul, partying with Taylor Swift is usually a business decision and not one made for pure recreation. Earlier this month, Jay Z decided to take a risk that was a) bigger than losing 92 bricks and bouncing right back; b) crazier than trying to convince us that Memphis Bleek was his true successor; and c) financially bold enough to grab headlines. He spent $56 million on Aspiro, a Swedish-based tech company. One of its subsidiaries, Tidal, made its way across the pond last fall.
Why was Jay Z partying with Taylor Swift? To promptly reveal to the world his latest business venture, an online streaming service where high-quality audio and video will beat out his competition.
Content-wise, Tidal offers some of the same layers that Beats Music debuted with in 2014. There are playlists curated by industry insiders, fractioned down to the smallest detail. You want a crash course in Danish hip-hop? Go to Tidal. You want to let your mind get lost in the wave of Just Blaze's greatest productions? Head to Tidal. These curated playlists worked for Beats early on but subscribers eventually felt stagnant and left the service. (It's set to re-launch later this year to coincide with Apple's purchase of Beats headphones for $3 billion in 2014.)
But the promise of Lossless and FLAC files equates to an audiophile's wet dream. It is, however, problematic to casual listeners who stream from their phones. A FLAC file -- the highest quality of audio you can get -- is large enough. Same for a Lossless file. Just streaming a FLAC file would cost you plenty. Listening to four songs on Tidal via your phone could run you something near 3GBs of used data. And that's not even counting what else you may use your phone for app wise. Sound quality has never been the problem for Spotify, not having certain albums or songs has been.
"It's the first artist-owned streaming service," Alicia Keys roared at the announcement press conference Monday. "Now join us as we sign our declaration."
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That declaration? Artists attempting to do what Jay Z and Beyonce did in 2013: control how their music is presented to the world without any interference from their respective labels. The artists who all own a stake in Tidal include a who's who of the bloated rich and famous: Keys, Win and Regine Butler from Arcade Fire, Beyonce, Chris Martin from Coldplay, Daft Punk, Jack White, J. Cole, Kanye West, Jason Aldean, Deadmau5, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Calvin Harris, Usher and Rihanna. That doesn't count the two Illuminati members who would have probably sniped me if I wrote their names out.
But does artist-owned translate into quality compensation for streams? Spotify, the world's top dog when it comes to music streaming, only pays artists up to six cents per stream, a price tag that infuriated Swift to the point where she pulled her music off of the service in the days leading up to her blockbuster 1989 album. It's also why artists like Aloe Blacc wrote an op-ed in WIRED calling for better artist compensation and saying he only made $12,000 for his work on Avicii's "Wake Me Up" -- 168 million streams on Pandora later. At the presser on Monday, no one mentioned dollar amounts, only vague discussions of power like one would hear at a political convention.
"It's not me against Spotify," Jay Z told Billboard. "Just the idea of the way we came into it, with everyone having equity, will open the dialogue - whether it be with the labels, the publishers or whoever. Will artist make more money? Even if it means less profit for our bottom line, absolutely. That's easy for us. We can do that. Less profit for our bottom line, more money for the artist; fantastic."
There's something about celebrity endorsements in 2015 that don't ring the same as they did in years prior. Still, Jay Z has attempted to translate his coolness into many different arenas. In 2003, it was a T-Mobile Sidekick edition of his "swan song," release, The Black Album. In 2013 it was a Samsung partnership that gave people his Magna Carta Holy Grail album, even though leaks were already on the Internet minutes afterward.
So Jay Z banking on people believing in -- and buying -- anything with his name attached to it is, in a sense, exactly what Tidal is banking on.
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