Joshua Tehee

Joshua Tehee: Is music streaming service Tidal hype, or the start of a revolution?


The service site is partly owned by Jay Z, Jack White, Madonna, Rihanna, Jason Aldean, Beyoncé and Kanye West


Tidal offers its content for $10-$20 a month


The artists see Tidal as revolutionary stand against the music industry status


What I know about Jay Z comes from reading his autobiography “Decoded.”

Boiled down, it’s this: The guy is not a businessman. He’s a business, man. The bottom line is the rapper-turned-mogul’s keen ability to visualize his brand as more than mere product.

It was stamped all over the press conference he held Monday, March 27, to announce the launch of his music streaming service, Tidal. Jay Z bought Tidal and its parent company in February.

To get a sense of how oddly awe-inspiring this event was, just look at the press photos. There were at least three dudes wearing crazy helmets (Danger Mouse and members of Daft Punk), plus a very quaffed (and serious looking) Jack White, plus Madonna, Rihanna, Jason Aldean, Beyoncé, Kanye West and a couple people I didn’t recognize, though, according to reports, they were probably members of Arcade Fire. In all, a dozen musicians were on hand to make statements and sign a “declaration,” though there was little hint of what that declaration might be.

It was an amazing show of force and made news in both the pop-culture and business world. Shares in Tidal’s parent company Aspiro were up 938% after the announcement, according to Reuters.

It one sense, Tidal is obviously meant to compete with Spotify, the music-streaming giant that is notorious for paying artists anywhere from 0.6 to 0.84 cents per stream.

Streaming revenues brought in $1.87 billion this year, finally outpacing CD sales. Tidal is one of several new services jumping into the market. Apple and Google will both be in the streaming business soon.

But the conference (and accompanying video, which aired as a commercial during NBC’s “The Voice”) carried an air of defiance and revolution. This was more than a business proposition for the artists involved — it was a stand against the status quo.

Beyonce said as much: “Every great movement started with a group of people being able to get together and really just make a stand.”

Indeed, much of the Tidal launch focused on the fact that this is an artist-owned service — the first of its kind. As such, it is being pitched as an artistic outlet, to which fans could have access for $10 or $20 (for CD-quality) a month. There is no free version.

At its best, the site would be a warehouse for exclusive content, delivered outside the traditional music industry outlets. Considering the success Beyoncé had when he she released her self-titled album last year digitally, with zero pre-publicity, the idea seems viable enough.

Of course, content is key. Whether anyone will fork over $10 a month will depend on how much they like Aldean or West or Daft Punk and also if that content is available on other, cheaper, services.

At this point, the details are scarce and most tech and media critics are saying Tidal is much hype.

Still, streaming music is the future, regardless of any of Taylor Swift’s successes, and it makes sense that musicians want in on it. Especially, given the industry’s long history of stiffing artists. See: Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley. Or Mötley Crüe for a more recent example. Seriously, the band’s autobiography has an entire chapter dedicated to the ways the music industry sets artist up to fail (while ensuring record companies and managers boatloads of money).

With Tidal, we see a wave of musician/artists no longer willing to rely on industry standards. As a business, Tidal might not pan out, but these artists should be commended for finally taking business into their own hands.

In that way, maybe, West was right in the Tidal launch video when he said: “This is like the beginning of a new world.”