IT should have been a no-brainer. A posse of the pop music’s most powerful stars sharing a stage to launch a revolution.
Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Alicia Keys, Madonna, Daft Punk, Jack White, Arcade Fire, Jason Aldean, J. Cole, with Chris Martin and Calvis Harris on video, putting on a big show.
This wasn’t the Grammys or Live Aid; awards and charity shows are typically your magnets for such a collection of superstars.
The cause for such an assemblage of A-listers was the unveiling of Tidal, a high-fidelity streaming service owned by artists.
The men and women renowned for fascinating their fans with dazzling displays of lights and sound stood awkwardly on stage as Keys gave a nonsense speech quoting Nietzsche and proclaiming the press conference to be “a moment that will forever change the course of music history.”
These entertainers, who have made it their business to be entertaining, failed to engage fans with a spectacularly boring affair.
And they have managed to piss off the very people who have afforded them their power.
Not since Metallica tried to shut down peer-to-peer digital file-sharing service Napster have musicians so successfully failed to make their stand.
Tidal is the artist’s antidote to Spotify, the world’s most recognised music streaming site.
Taylor Swift refuelled the debate about artist compensation from streaming services last November when she ripped her catalogue off Spotify ahead of the release of her 1989 record.
It was part clever marketing, part a Jerry Maguire statement about artist rights and inevitably made her many more millions in royalties as fans were forced to download the record rather than stream it.
As Team Swift proved popular pop stars could seize back control of their wares from major labels and technology companies, Jay-Z was hatching Tidal.
He paid $US56 million ($74 million) for a majority shareholding in Swedish company Aspiro, which rolled out Tidal last October.
The service was the latest designed to appeal to audiophiles, the music-loving Luddites who will wax lyrical about the sound quality of vinyl versus CDs versus MP3s.
But when it was relaunched last week by the 16 key artist owners fronted by Jay-Z and Beyonce, all anyone heard was $20, the cost of a monthly subscription.
Madonna pontificated about “bringing humanity back to being an artist. Not technology/art; human/art”.
There has been an irreparable disconnect between the artist and fan when it comes to monetising music since the dawn of the MP3 in the late 1990s.
Napster illuminated the ease with which music could be made free to fans via peer to peer file-sharing on the internet.
Steve Jobs became the industry’s saviour by devising the player (iPod) and online store (iTunes) which would earn income from those digital files for the record labels and their artists.
But it would never be as much as the halcyon era of CDs when the labels, at least, reaped a much higher profit margin from the sales of those shiny pieces of silver plastic.
What fans have failed to understand since the dawn of the modern music industry is that artists have always been the last to get paid. And get paid the least.
They are paid a royalty, negotiated when they sign a recording deal, per each unit sold. But they only get their money once any label investment has been recouped. Until you have paid back your advance, your recording costs, your photo and video budgets and myriad associated expenses, the person who wrote and recorded the song does not earn a cent.
Seem fair? Of course it’s not. But in the complicated world of copyrights, that’s just how it has always been.
So Jay-Z and his music mates decided it was time to flip the tables in the favour of the creators of those digital files.
Under the umbrella of sound quality, they banded together and promised a premium listening experience, similar to that of CD standard, and exclusive content for $20 and less sonic quality for the standard $9.99.
They offer no free tier.
And here’s where they jumped the shark.
Most fans could not tell the difference between a Tidal stream or a Spotify one played through headphones via their smartphone, tablet or computer.
And the amount of those who could — engineers and audiophiles nerds — and would pay $20 a month for it, is probably below five per cent.
The Tidal promise of exclusivity is difficult to deliver in an era when any piece of music can be found online within an hour of its official release to iTunes and the other stores.
Will fans of Kanye West and Rihanna, who both have new albums slated for release in the coming weeks, rush to join Tidal to be the first to get it before it hits the platform’s competitors.
No. They’ll just wait for it to hit a Torrent site.
Tidal also wants you to pay to watch videos. As videos are essentially a marketing tool to inspire you to buy the song, that is not going to wash. And again, there are plenty of sites to stream videos for free if you can put up with 30 seconds of an ad.
Does the average music fan have an altruistic bone in their body when it comes to “investing” in their favourite artists by buying their music rather than taking it for free from the interwebs? No. They just want to hear their favourite tune when they want to hear it. And they already think Jay-Z has enough money.
It took mere minutes for the #TIDALforALL hashtag to inspire the contrary #TIDALforNOONE.
It is very early days for Tidal but the rocky start-up of this start-up doesn’t bode well for its future unless the price point changes and the artists manage to inspire fans that it is in fact a music revolution.
heraldsun.com.au 4 April 2015
Artists always have been cheated out of a lot of royalties by their 'record' producing companies.
It's very common to write about how much the artist has earned, e.g. "last year Taylor Swift earned $65 million dollars", but what no one really writes about is the how much money the producers have made FROM the artist.
The ratio is over 10:1.
Whether the artists or more to the point the 'record companies' like it or not, 'piracy' is not going to stop.
Every time a song is played on the radio the record company gets more than the artist.
It's about the 'corporations' rather than the artists .