Does the world need another streaming service? Perhaps the better question is does every artist need to have their name in the streaming game? Ever since the realization that streaming equated to jack shit when it comes to royalties, it seems more are more artists are trying to get in on the ownership of the services that peddles their art for fractions of cents. If someone is going to get screwed, they want to be the ones doing the screwing.
So today Tidal launched with Jay Z getting into the game. Offering high quality streams, off-line streams, exclusive music and video, and a wide range catalog of mainstream music elite, Jay-Z seems determined to showing the value of music by sucking every last dollar out of it.
There is only one problem, it’s too late and the Tidal may already be set up for failure.
While the platform has plenty of press, and celebrity faces endorsing it, it is an experiment that comes too late, and has been shown to fail before. Take Neil Young’s PONO service for example. While its chapter is not yet closed, it has been a rollercoaster of a rollout out and not nearly the revolutionary experience that so many, including Tidal poster boy Jack White, thought it would be. While Tidal is not device driven as PONO is, it shares many of the same hurdles.
Let’s recap. As the digital download has begun its downward slide, more and more flocked to streaming services. Driven by unlimited music access for free, or cheaper than dirt subscription prices, it’s easy to see the broad appeal to so many digital music consumers.
However one thing changed with this pivotal moment, the money. See that’s the driving force for so many in the music game, the money. If it’s not rolling in, the system is broken. Ten years ago artists and labels alike flocked to the digital realm, reaping the benefits of the invisible medium. Their production costs drastically reduced, their profits increased exponentially. For those still purchasing physical music, they forced them into digital by gouging them at the register.
However streaming changed the game. iTunes and other download sites flourished because they offered ala carte purchases and convenience. While punishing the physical music buyers, labels rewarded the digital consumers, giving them the best of all worlds and giving a middle finger to the record stores who had served them for decades. As digital music gained momentum, the price wars began. In the process, the value tanked, but it didn’t matter, the artist was still getting paid.
Then streaming music providers like Spotify showed their true colors. The fractions of cents they were paying in royalties were not adding up for those delivering the content, especially when it was split up among multiple parties. While iTunes killed the album format, it still provided a substantial payday for the big players, and streaming just wasn’t keeping up. Quantity was not coming close to making up for the loss of actual music revenue.
Some artist chose to fight back, including bold moves like that of Taylor Swift last year. This move brought attention to streaming music provider’s best kept secrets of how they were robbing content generators. While claiming to be saving the music industry, they were fundamentally destroying it.
Meanwhile, one word came to the forefront of the debate; value. Ignored and overlooked throughout the evolution of the digital standard, the industry learned that the general public had begun to view music as an entitlement, and for those who wanted to view it as a utility, then they could pay the subscription fee. It finally happened, in an effort to make music more appealing by making it free, they had robbed it of its value, and some just don’t see the point of paying for it anymore.
That is why Tidal is doomed.
Within minutes the star-studded publicity stunt, with each genre kingpin signing their “pledge,” social media had erupted in outcry. Consumers were angry that these rich powerful artists were seeking money for their music, as if $20.00 a month is highway robbery for unlimited access to their art. “How dare these people want money for their music?” “How dare they want to be compensated for all their work?” “Aren’t they rich enough?” “It’s too expensive!” There was no short supply of cheap condescending tones delivered through their $500.00 iPhones.
In a way, it really is sad. We have always maintained that digital music, including streaming, has its place. This isn’t a fight against the format. Tidal is the right idea! It is just too late. This banding of artists, standing up for fair royalties, ownership of their work, and demanding value for their work should have taken place years ago. It’s too late. The labels, customers, and digital music services have robbed their music of its value and these artists sat by and allowed it to happen. It’s too late. However that’s not going to stop them from trying. According to Billboard, each owner was given a 3% stake in the company, presumably for exclusive content. No doubt this will help them compete against the biggest rival, Spotify. Look for some major fireworks in the coming year as these two services go head to head.
Meanwhile, what’s the solution? Who knows? Robbing something of value is easy, but restoring value is next to impossible. A tarnished antique cannot be re-built and sold at its original value. However it goes without saying that physical music, especially vinyl, could play a major roll. The only growing format, and a lifeline to independent record stores, the vinyl format is doing its part to restore the value of music. While prices are out of line, vinyl enthusiasts are remaining vigilant in supporting the format and the stores. Labels are putting together incredible releases, re-mastering classics, and getting the most of the format they had previously abandoned. All this is increasing exponentially while digital music providers are still at war with each other.
Tidal took big step forward today, but it may have the first towards its own demise.
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