Last week’s celebrity-soaked presentation of a new music streaming service called Tidal, whose main initiator is the rap star Jay-Z, created lots of headlines. Many of them were not very sympathetic (like here, here, here or here). If a couple of millionaires show up together on stage in an easily misunderstood attempt to convince streaming subscribers to pay more money, it is like asking to be criticised and mocked about.
But aside from the understandable public questioning of what Jay-Z and his fellow music superstars are trying to accomplish here, there is another, more significant angle to having a bunch of big name artists starting a service such as Tidal: The acknowledgement that streaming is the future of music consumption.
In an on-stage interview in regards to Tidal, Jay-Z himself put it like this:
“I feel like with the history of this platform, from vinyl to where we are now, it just seems like the next logical step. Before you had a CD, you put it in, you had the download, they eliminated the CD so just downloads. Now you’re going to eliminate the download and you just play it. So it just seems like the next logical step in what’s going to happen.”
After many years of comparatively slow growth for the world’s leading music streaming services Spotify, Rdio and Deezer, of constant PR battles due to bad payouts for artists, and of a general scepticism about the concept of streaming itself, now at least for some of the world’s biggest artists, the doubts seem to have disappeared.
The importance of this must not be underestimated. Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna and the other supporting artists could have followed Taylor Swift, who withdrew her music from Spotify because she wanted to increase her iTunes sales. Instead, they embrace streaming while at the same time experimenting with a modified pricing model and product strategy (including the absence of a free tier).
Update: As I learned from this interesting piece, some Tidal artists actually have pulled releases from Spotify. Though not with the intention to push download or CD sales, but to be able to offer exclusive streaming on Tidal. end of update.
This might work out, or it won’t. What’s important here is the seal of approval for streaming. Even though Tidal’s goal is to attract some of the other services’ subscribers, there is a huge cake left be shared. Most likely, all significant players in the streaming sector will benefit from Tidal’s massive PR initiative.
In my eyes, the real take-away from Tidal’s attention-grabbing launch week is not that these major artists have lost their sense for reality by offering a me-too-product at less attractive terms, but that they at least accept the changing times instead of desperately trying to turn back the clock.
Now the next step should be forcing labels to reduce their big share of revenue from streaming. Because this is really the reason why most musicians earn so little with Spotify & co.