There are few things we would ever question the Queen about. But when Beyoncé released her new album on Apple iTunes on April 25 (after a 24 hour exclusive debut on competitor Tidal in which her husband owns and she has shares), it was the only question we wanted to ask, second to: how did you manage to out Jay Z as a cheater on a music film in your Roberto Cavalli best, Beyonce?
While Tidal users will have exclusive streaming rights to the album compared with iTunes subscribers who have to pay $21.99 for Lemonade out-right, when your husband owns a company, isn’t it normal not to drive some of it’s audience to its competitor (streaming or otherwise)?
But it’s not only the boss’ wife who is slowly breaking the Tidal exclusivity rule. In a series of tweets in February, vociferous artist Kanye West announced he would only be releasing his album The Life Of Pablo on Tidal. A few weeks later, his single Waves popped up on Apple Music before TLOP was widely released within two months where it shot to number one on the Billboards, something West seemed pretty damn happy about. But would he have achieved this success had he only released his album on Tidal to it’s three million users (compared with Apple Music’s 11 million and Spotify’s 30 million paid subscribers)? In short, no.
Beyonce and West – along with 16 other hit-makers including Rihanna, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Jack White, Alicia Keys, Calvin Harris, Chris Martin and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne – all co-own a percentage of the venture, which is touted as offering customers higher-quality listening. Upon launch in March 2015, the goal, it seemed, was to challenge established streaming giants Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music and reportedly musicians would be paid “double the royalties of other streaming services”, then-Tidal CEO Andy Chen said. Alicia Keys presented at the launch event and promised the world the service would change the course of music history and that it would preserve music’s importance in our lives. Jay Z said it was a way to try and improve the free-versus-paid system and promote a fair trade between artist and consumer. Yes, equity stakes sure seemed appealing to choice artists as well.
But, if you ask your friends here in Australia which of them has a Tidal subscription, chances are few, if any, may confess. And if one does download the free trial, he’ll generally be the one who plays Beyonce’s Pray You Catch Me on repeat on his desktop at work so his colleagues can enjoy. The truth is, while Tidal offers more than 25 million songs and high definition video streaming of 75,000 videos, the majority of music lovers just don’t believe Tidal offers enough to warrant its fee. Most people don’t care if it’s top shelf audio or not. They just want to listen to good music. And “Tidal-exclusive” artists are almost always releasing on other services.
It appears the internal struggle at Tidal is a stumbling point as well. In 2015, Cash Money Records filed a $50 million lawsuit over a Lil Wayne mix tape that was streamed exclusively in July, something the record label say was a “desperate and illegal attempt to save their struggling streaming service.” Rihanna’s album Anti – which sold next to nothing but still managed to be number one – was released exclusively on Tidal for one week before being widely released as well.
The Tidal model seemingly does have some big flaws. And according to recent reports from Bloomberg, after spending $56 million for the streaming service, Jay Z has issued legal action against its former proprietor, a Norwegian media company called Schibsted. Allegedly Tidal was bought under the pretence there were 540,000 pre-existing subscribers, a false number. And while Rihanna, Kanye and now Jay Z’s own wife have all made their music available on other services, Tidal doesn’t look like it has the answer to the biggest questions over the music industry right now: What’s the future of downloads? What’s the future of Tidal? Did Jay Z really cheat on Beyonce?
Maybe he did. And the best revenge is not only your paper – but working with the enemy apparently. Either way, while Jay Z may be paying for what he did to Beyonce, three million people are still paying him.
Cover image: giphy.com