Business News Digital Top Stories

Tidal relaunches, did you wave?

By | Published on Tuesday 31 March 2015


Not since Paul Tonkinson and Amanda Byram took over the reins on ‘The Big Breakfast’ has a relaunch been this exciting!

So yes, as expected, yesterday afternoon (New York time) Jay-Z gathered together an undeniably impressive band of A-list popstars (many though not all managed by his Roc Nation company or other Live Nation affiliates) to prove, once and for all, that however much fame and charisma you may have as an artist, once you’re standing in a line with a load of other stars with absolutely nothing to do for five minutes, you’re going to look like a bunch of school kids waiting to be picked for a basketball team.

But who could you have on your basketball team? Well, I’d start with Beyonce, I bet she knows how to shoot some hoops. Or maybe Nicki Minaj? Yeah, I’m having Nicki Minaj. Her and Alicia Keys. Jack White doesn’t look like he’d be much use on the basketball court, but perhaps that’d just lure the opposition into a false sense of security and then, wham, Usher could slam that ball in the bucket.

I can’t help thinking Arcade Fire, Jason Aldean and J Cole would just be making up the numbers, and presumably Kanye West ain’t much of a team player. Madonna? Hmm, maybe another secret weapon? And while you might think Daft Punk and Deadmau5 are the weakest links, what with their unwieldy headgear, it’s worth noting Calvin Harris and Chris Martin are skype-ing in. And you ain’t gonna score any baskets that way, are you?

“So who ended up on which team?” you’re all now shouting. Well, here’s the thing, they’re all on the same team see, because these A-listers ain’t just celebrity endorsers of the all-new Tidal streaming service, oh no, they’re shareholders in the whole God-darn thing. Don’t be thinking this is just a Jay-Z-led venture, it’s the A-list artists uniting for the common good, putting their lives on the line to benefit the little guys.

True, the FT cites sources who claim that the artists were given their 3% shareholdings gratis alongside a cash sweetener of up to $3 million, in return for agreeing to front the streaming platform. But I’m sure all the c’lebs are now hard at work in Tidal HQ, checking the servers are running OK, managing the Facebook ads account, and ordering in some new barrels for the water cooler. Oh no, hang on, Jay-Z wants you to drink water from the tap and spend that money on some bloody music, OK?

But surely we learned more about the all-new Tidal during its much hyped, live-streamed New York launch than “look at all our celebrity shareholders, so fuck off Spotify”? Well, no, not really, but earlier in the day we were given some more information. Mainly that Tidal – which so far has only offered the 19.99 high quality audio service – will also have a 9.99 standard audio option, so basically the same as it’s sister service WiMP, which is being rebranded under the Tidal name anyway.

The other key message in all the relaunch bumf is that Tidal is going to become the artist-friendly streaming service, because, hey, did we mention our shareholders? Though quite how it will be more ‘artist-friendly’ remains to be seen. True, the 19.99 service pays out twice the royalties, but then given streaming services are licensed on a revenue share basis, that’s a given, and realistically double-the-cost HD audio remains a niche product. Also, when it comes to the royalties artists actually receive, a lot of that has to do with their deals with the labels and publishers that nearly always sit between them and any streaming set-up.

So the main way in which Tidal will be ‘artist-friendly’ seems to be the shunning of freemium. But then pretty much every streaming service other than Spotify has entered the market without an ad-funded freemium level, and nearly all of them have subsequently added some kind of free-to-use version after seeing how much quicker their Swedish rival grows its userbase when it enters new markets.

But like Apple with its planned iTunes/Beats rehash, Tidal is hoping that it can sign people up not with freebies but with exclusives, whether that be first-plays of new albums or exclusive content. And any sort of exclusive content will do. “Artists can come here and start making songs eight minutes long”, Jay-Z told Billboard.

“I know this is going to sound crazy”, he went on. “But maybe they start attempting to make a ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, you know, a song that doesn’t have a recognisable hook, but is still considered one of the greatest songs of all time. The freedom that this platform will allow means art can flourish here”. So, basically, like a really innovative radio station. A really innovative radio station that no one listens to.

Still, however awkward his launch party may have been (it was very awkward), the addition of Jay-Z’s Tidal to an increasingly crowded marketplace makes what was already set to be an interesting year in streaming music all the more interesting. And imagine what MC Hammer’s going to do with his inevitable acquisition of Rara.

Though however many popstars are on your team, the streaming music sector remains a risky game to play, even for Jay-Z. But if all else fails, he could always bring back Johnny and Denise with their Friday songs. I’d pay for that.