Jay Z is on the defensive.No, he’s not being showered with a security cam-friendly array of Mortal Kombat-worthy punches and kicks courtesy of the inimitable Solange. Rather, the hip-hop icon turned entrepreneur who once rapped, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” has taken to Twitter to ward off a barrage of criticism aimed at the artist-owned streaming music service Tidal, of which he is the fearless leader.
The man formerly known as Sean Carter fired off a series of tweets on Sunday using the #TidalFacts to try and dispel perceived myths floating about concerning Tidal.
Mr. Z also added: “The iTunes Store wasn’t built in a day. It took Spotify 9 years to be successful… We are here for the long haul. Please give us a chance to grow & get better. There are many big companies that are spending millions on a smear campaign. We are not anti-anyone, we are pro-artist & fan. We made Tidal for fans. We have more than just music. We have video, exclusive concerts, tickets for events early, live sports!... Tidal is where artists can give their fans more without the middlemen.” “Indie artists who want to work directly w/ us keep 100% of their music,” he continued. “‘If you don’t want the CEOs all in the videos’ haa. Tidal pays 75% royalty rate to ALL artists, writers and producers—not just the founding members on stage. Rich getting richer? Equity values… YouTube $390 billion. Apple $760 billion. Spotify $8 billion. Tidal $60 million. My cousin just moved to Nigeria to discover new talent. Tidal is a global company. We have Tidal X—it supports artists by giving them a platform to connect with their most loyal fans. Tidal is for all. Our actions will speak louder than words. We made Tidal to bring people the best experiences… and to help artists give that to their fans over and over again.”
Let’s dispel some of Jay Z’s myths here, first. Tidal is not one month old—it was launched by the Swedish/Norwegian company Aspiro in October 2014. Jay Z’s company Project Panther Ltd. later acquired it in March 2015. On March 23, the now-Jay Z-owned Tidal integrated WiMP, its sister service (also acquired from Aspiro), which had 597,000 total subscribers as of July 17, 2014, according to Aspiro’s Q2 company presentation.
On March 30, Tidal held one of the more ostentatious and narcissistic press conferences in history. Sixteen multimillionaire artists took the stage—including Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, Madonna, Daft Punk, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Jack White, and more—all of whom each assumed a 3 percent ownership stake in Tidal (besides Jay Z, who owns considerably more). They announced a grand “vision to change the status quo” and “forever change the course of music history,” before signing a declaration of independence. It was the Super Bowl of circle jerks; a gaudy display by a group of wildly popular musicians who feel they’re not being adequately compensated for their contributions to the world (thank God they didn’t get into journalism).
Tidal offers high fidelity and lossless audio quality, but also exorbitant fees of $20 per month. The idea behind Tidal is that these higher subscription fees will lead to greater royalties for the artists—so it’s pretty hard to understand how this endeavor is “for fans,” as Jay Z claims. Tidal’s logic seems to be that fans’ money will now go directly into the pockets of the artists, but if the monthly premium is more than competing music streaming sites’ like Spotify and Apple’s Beats Music, how does this benefit the fans, and not just pad the pockets of these equity-blessed entrepreneurs?
Now let’s talk about those subscriber numbers. Jay Z touted Tidal’s 770,000 subscribers, but 597,000 of those came from WiMP. That means fewer than 200,000 people have subscribed to Tidal in the close to a month since that disastrous March 30 presentation. Tidal also dropped out of iTunes’ top 700 most-downloaded apps chart this past week.
Furthermore, the “exclusive” content Tidal has been rolling out mainly consists of content that would be free to fans otherwise, e.g. streaming singles like Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” (which, by the way, should be Tidal's theme song), music videos, and the ability to livestream concerts, all of which people could’ve just caught on YouTube without paying a high monthly premium. Hell, one of the “exclusives” they offered was a playlist curated by a contributing editor from Vanity Fair:
It’s good that Jay Z’s cousin moved to Nigeria to scout talent, and that indie artists who sign with Tidal allegedly “keep 100% of their music,” although it’s not really clear what Jay Z meant by this very vague statement.
Now to the supposed “smear campaign” being orchestrated against Tidal.
The idea that a “smear campaign” has been launched against Tidal seems incredibly paranoid at best, and disingenuous at worst. Tidal’s outrageous press conference—and the backlash it provoked—had nothing to do with any campaign, nor did the many musical acts who’ve spoken out against the streaming music service.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Mumford & Sons called the owners of Tidal “new school fucking plutocrats” and went on to say they wanted no part of the self-serving spectacle.
“We wouldn’t have joined it anyway, even if they had asked,” said Mumford & Sons frontman Marcus Mumford. “We don’t want to be tribal. I think smaller bands should get paid more for it, too. Bigger bands have other ways of making money, so I don’t think you can complain. A band of our size shouldn’t be complaining. And when they say it’s artist-owned, it’s owned by those rich, wealthy artists.”
He added, “What I’m not into is the tribalistic aspect of it—people trying to corner bits of the market, and put their face on it. That’s just commercial bullshit. We hire people to do that for us rather than having to do that ourselves. We just want to play music, and I don’t want to align myself with Spotify, Beats, Tidal, or whatever. We want people to listen to our music in their most comfortable way, and if they’re not up for paying for it, I don’t really care.”
And Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, in an interview with The Daily Beast, slammed Tidal’s much-ballyhooed presser for being out of touch.
“I think they totally blew it by bringing out a bunch of millionaires and billionaires and propping them up onstage and then having them all complain about not being paid,” said Gibbard. “There was a wonderful opportunity squandered to highlight what this service would mean for artists who are struggling and to make a plea to people’s hearts and pocketbooks to pay a little more for this service that was going to pay these artists a more reasonable streaming rate. And they didn’t do it. That’s why this thing is going to fail miserably.”
There’s also the bizarre situation with Tidal presentation attendee/Jay Z protégé Kanye West and his precarious position within the company.
Last week, following the news that Tidal had dropped out of iTunes’ Top 700 iPhone apps chart after debuting in the top 20, West mysteriously scrubbed his Twitter timeline of all mentions of Tidal with no explanation. The news made major headlines, with many seeing it as West distancing himself from the poorly performing service. Someone—presumably pal Jay Z—must have got in West’s ear about the media fallout (his rep would not comment on the matter), and the rapper reaffirmed his supposed commitment to Tidal early Thursday morning:
None of these artist slams or the pretentious presentation or the West Twitter incident seems indicative of any elaborate “smear campaign” against Tidal, but rather the byproduct of a dreadful PR campaign. Jay Z, who once infamously proclaimed “my presence is charity,” ended his Sunday afternoon Twitter plea with the following: