So Jay-Z and the Justice League of Over-Produced Pop Stars have joined forces to fight the evil menace of streaming music services – by starting their own streaming music service. There have been many stories recently about the meek amount of royalties that services like Spotify and Pandora pay out. Work certainly needs to be done to figure a better way for artists to get paid for the music they make but let’s be honest about what this Tidal launch is really all about: vanity and arrogance. I mean just look at that video:
Town hall for creativity? Please. I certainly have no problem with content creators attempting to have more control over how they get paid for their work. My problem here is the way Jay and the Gang are approaching this. Mr. Z has invited his fellow multi-millionaire pals to buy into his new company so that they have ownership and thus reap greater rewards from the fruit of their labor. This is great if you happen to be an already established pop star with a fat bank account and a few million twitter followers.
I fail to see how this new service will be of any benefit to artists still climbing the ladder. A band that is out there playing on the club circuit certainly won’t be able to afford a stake in Tidal. This is elitism, a musical country club – we’re out there fighting for the rights of artists… as long as they can pay the entrance fee. Basically, the top tier of entertainers are throwing a tantrum, taking their ball and going home. Since it is a pure subscription service, what they are creating is a closed loop; an exclusive service owned by established talent, featuring established talent for fans of established talent. You wouldn’t pay for Netflix unless you knew it had a bunch of movies and shows you wanted to watch already, right? Sure other artists will come on board eventually but they won’t be “owners” and thus will get paid the same rate they would get anywhere else.
The truly obnoxious part (aside from the air of self-importance) is the pandering attitude of claiming that what they care about is Art, Artistry and Artists. This is a group of people who decided long ago they wanted to be rich and famous and they didn’t care what it would take to do it. This is about money, plain and simple; spare us the “It’s all about the music, man!” speech. Do you think Beyonce spends more time in the recording studio or on various sets doing photo shoots? But maybe it’s just me; perhaps I don’t understand the musical significance of the Daft Punk VR helmets or Nicki Minaj’s cleavage.
The music purist angle exists for three reasons: 1. self-absorbed ego-stroking 2. public relations – it’s the equivalent of the Harvard-educated politician talking about the plight of the working man 3. It’s an attempt to justify the extra cost for higher sound quality.
The last element is the only thing that separates Tidal from any other streaming service: for an extra ten bucks a month you can get “hi-fi” quality audio. Hey, if you really care about The Music, Man, then you want the best sound reproduction possible, right? Of course this is a moot point since just about everyone will be listening on ear buds or the thumbnail sized speakers of a laptop or tablet. (Sort of the flip-side of all the folks who dropped big money on an HDTV so they could watch the shaky, out-of-focus camera work on their favorite reality shows.)
No, there is only one issue here – these “artists” want to get paid more and there is nothing wrong with that. Digital distribution rules need to be reconsidered; however we need to think about the whole spectrum not just the people currently sitting atop the Billboard charts. It’s important to remember that internet music is still in its infancy. A mere 15 years ago the RIAA and artists alike were crapping their collective drawers over Napster and smart phones didn’t even exist yet.
The technology and culture around the music industry is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. There is still a ton of outdated thinking in the entertainment industry with the music side being probably the most anachronistic. It is time for some fresh new ideas so let’s talk about some. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing some blog brainstorming, proposing some thoughts and ideas for the music industry. Some will probably not be feasible, maybe some will be, but at least we’ll be talking about it. If you have some suggestions other than “Kanye is an under-appreciated genius” (I’m looking at you, Mr. Kardashian), than email them to me at: Unlike a music industry executive, I promise to give credit where credit is due. Stay tuned.