A few days ago I opened the Facebook app on my phone and was slapped right across the face with the following headline:
“JAY Z TO MAKE IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT AT 5PM EST”
Of course, because the announcement was so important it literally had to take up 90% of the space in my Facebook timeline, I followed the links to see what super amazing stuff Jay Z (I can’t type it as JAY Z because I feel like I’m screaming) was up to now.
What could it be? A new tour with some other mega powerful artist? Another album with Kanye West? The signing of some prominent athlete to his sports management agency? What new awesome thing had Jay Z acquired that none of us could ever imagine owning but yet will listen to him rap about for the next 10 years?
Upon clicking the link I came to a website for a company named “Tidal” and found a video.
Oh shit. Here we go. This is going to be the answer to all of my questions.
“I just thought about how crazy this is, like how this is the beginning of the new world.”
Those were the first words I heard as Kanye West appeared on the screen.
Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Chris Martin from Coldplay, Beyonce, Rihanna, all of these super duper mega stars that I could care less about all in one room under the same roof while dramatic drums thumped in the background! Holy rolling my fucking eyes, Batman! Say it ain’t so!
But then Jack White and Daft Punk showed up. Ok, I’ll sit up and listen now…
“Change the course of history forever today… Like this thing was the thing that everyone wanted and everyone feared. If these artists can sit in a room together, the game changes forever. And it happened today.”
As I watched a handful of music’s biggest names sit around a table and talk about how great they are I tried my best not to cringe. As insufferable as it was, I knew that if Jack White was at the table, whatever this musical legion of doom was planning had to be worth my attention.
After watching the first video I paused for a moment before watching the second video and took a deep breath. I couldn’t help but secretly hope that maybe finally these people (I would say artists but I consider a very small percentage of these people actual artists) were pooling their money together and providing a new, fair distribution channel for independent music. Maybe, just maybe, my dreams had come true and a group of people had put in the money, time and effort to create an all in one distribution service thus revolutionizing the industry and bringing independence to the forefront once and for all. In my mind I imagined something along the lines of Tunecore or Mondotunes on steroids.
Then I watched the next video and honestly, I couldn’t figure out what the fuck was going on. After a long, drawn introduction of everyone involved, Alicia Keys took the stage and rambled forever about how significant music is to all of our lives. Tidal is the first ever artist owned global music platform, music makes my heart feel so good, Friedrich Nietzsche quote, blah blah fucking blah. Then they all signed some piece of paper to signify their commitment to some new, imaginary era in music.
What the fuck did I just watch? What is Tidal? As much as I cringed over and over again I was determined to figure out what I was watching but I was quickly losing patience.
I knew immediately that DJBooth would have the answer so I opened Chrome on my phone and thankfully Lucas was there to break it all down for me.
Ok, so hold up. I just went through a 20 minute cringefest to find out that all of these great minds had come together to purchase a Hi-Fi music streaming service? This was the big announcement? You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. There has to be more to it than that. There has to be some sort of angle that these genius voices of our generation were taking so mind blowing that I would have a permanent brain boner for all of eternity.
Nope, just music that I could play on my phone for the low cost of $9.99 per month or $19.99 if I felt like going balls deep and spending some of my grocery money to listen to high quality music that I could easily download for free through any of the hundreds of torrent sites I have bookmarked in Safari.
This was how they decided to give back. The revolution was incredibly beige.
As you can probably already tell, I’m a little underwhelmed by this whole Tidal idea. I just don’t understand how a paid streaming service is going to do anything to change music. If I call customer service will Beyonce be handling my call? Will Daft Punk be manning the controls in the IT department? Will we see some awesome web design from the brilliant creative minds of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna? For $9.99 per month this damn well better be what they’re offering.
But you and I know that’s not the case. We know exactly what’s happening here. Jay Z bought Tidal from some tech company and then called his famous friends in to help launch the Spotify carbon copy. According to Jay Z, every member of the legion of doom owns an equal share of Tidal, but who cares? Does it really make a difference to me that any of these millionaire celebrities could benefit from another $10 a month out of my pocket? Not one bit.
The main selling point of the streaming service thus far has been that artists will be paid a higher royalty percentage with Tidal than they will with Spotify. But after nearly an hour of searching on the Internet, I still have yet to clearly understand what exactly that percentage is. From what little information I’ve found it appears that Tidal will pay double what Spotify pays in royalties, but the catch is they will only pay double that amount through accounts that subscribe to the $19.99 per month service. For accounts subscribing to the $9.99 per month service, the royalty percentage will be exactly the same as what Spotify pays. To add insult to injury, there is no free option with Tidal whatsoever. So unless you have $240 per year to shell out for high quality audio that you will never be able to hear as it was intended since most of us don’t own thousands of dollars in audio gear that can properly process the sound, the artists you love and appreciate will still be getting raped repeatedly by Tidal just as they have with Spotify.
This entire Tidal fiasco is angering to me. This is just another campaign to rope people into paying for a service that is completely unnecessary. As an artist it frustrates me every time one of these (or in this case a collection of) celebrities throws their weight behind something that benefits nobody and acts as if they’re changing the face of music and technology as we know it while undermining the intelligence of the listeners and/or users. Streaming music is popular and it’s the way that a lot of us listen to music nowadays, but the truth is streaming is the way that we find music we eventually would like to own. Music is a completely different art form since it’s the only one that we collect and carry with us for a lifetime. We all have movies or paintings that we love and appreciate, but very few of us engage with those mediums like we do with music. Most of us don’t watch the same movie two or three times a week like we listen to our favorite albums.
That being said, Tidal has missed the mark completely. What makes services like Spotify and Songza work is that they open the doors to music we might not have otherwise discovered and they do it for free. They eliminate the background noise and allow us to find exactly what we’re looking for without having to sift through hours of music that doesn’t appeal to us. We don’t need to stream high quality music, we need to have access to what we’re looking for so we can find what we love and then purchase the high quality version of it if we so choose. Additionally, services like Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Audiomack provide the perfect platform for artists to release and share music without barriers. Nobody is paying $10 a month to look for new artists and music they may possibly enjoy and support in the future. Could you imagine if DJBooth was a paid service? I would literally be writing this article for no reason whatsoever right now because DJBooth wouldn’t exist.
Music is about ownership. The artists create something they love and the listeners own it. To even insinuate that music could or should be rented from the artists or their record labels is a slap in the face to everybody involved in the process. When I make an album my only hope is that it connects with you and possibly may be something that you carry with you forever. YouTube, Bandcamp and Audiomack are my chosen platforms because I know that they are easy to use and have no barriers to entry. Spotify, despite their piss poor royalty system, is a great service because it allows you to find me when you weren’t even looking for me. Tidal isn’t changing the game, they’re latching on and trying to suck as much as they can out of it by asking you to pay for a service that complicates my ability to get to you.
Tidal can go fuck itself. Unless you’re looking forward to that new Coldplay remix featuring a rapping Madonna. Then please, by all means stick with Jay Z and his legion of doom.
[Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for DJBooth.net. You can read/download his free eBook, "This Is My Rifle" and listen/download his most recent album, "Pyramids in Stereo." You can also contact him here and here.]