I’m still on the fence about Jay Z’s newly re-launched artist-owned streaming service Tidal. On the one hand it is refreshing to see artists discuss what rightful compensation for their product entails, yet there seems to be an air of Luddism (however justified) involved as creatives rebel against the ‘tech’ elite and ignore the realities of the market. My feeling at this juncture is that this is going to be a costly, but perhaps necessary learning curve for Jay Z, his business associates and the artists who have come forward as owners. One of the main concerns for onlookers is the fact that main rival Spotify prices it’s premium service at £9.99 per month which is significantly less than Tidal’s £19.99 price point. To address the disparity and present added value, subscribers to the top rate version are allowed exclusive early access to releases by participating artists as well as extra content such as podcast-like mini-docs and interviews. Also included in the higher tier is the promise of ‘lossless’ sound quality, something which I think respective individuals care about to varying degrees. I’m slightly apprehensive about the assumption that consumers care enough to fork out an extra ten or so quid but what I’m really concerned about is the target market or apparent lack there-of. In lieu of doing any more boring research I’m going to guess that there are (or should be) two main audiences who Carter and co. are trying to reach.
The first audience I think are 25-30 year olds, most-likely employed (therefore not too hesitant about paying for streaming) , culturally engaged and socially well-orientated. This crowd is increasingly upwardly-mobile, accustomed to a reasonable work/life balance and non-resistant to the idea of organised fun. They enjoy discovering new artists through websites and blogs that they follow such as Noisey and Pigeons and Planes and will support artists through buying their records and attending their concerts at least more than they did 5-10 years ago.
The secondary audience, I would venture to guess, are predominantly male music fans who are past the 45 year mark. These guys spend a lot on Vinyl records and decent Hi-Fi equipment, they probably will care more about the interviews and mini-docs offered at the higher tier rate and they have no really idea about downloading music illegally unless they can convince their teenage son to do it for them. For this crowd Tidal will be like a version of the BBC’s 6Music platform where they get to pick the songs (neatly filtering out that grating Lana Del Rey tune that the morning guys insist on playing) and can dip into the odd Paul Weller interview.
It is with these two audiences in mind that I present you my list of the launch event declaration signees next to a ranking of how they fit the market ….
Alicia Keys- 7.5
Alicia Keys seems to have an air credibility that hasn’t really shifted in the past 14 years that she’s been about. Sure she’s got a ton of best-selling pop hits under her belt but she also wins points for being largely inoffensive, seemingly humble and actually really good at the piano. Do I think that her audience are going to part with their £19.99 to hear ‘Girl on Fire’ in ‘lossless’ sound? Probably not. What about interviews, early releases, documentaries and any other more intimate artist experiences? I wouldn’t count on it, as talented and accomplished as she is you’re probably bit going to get a Yeezy-esque stream-of-consciousness or a piece-by-piece dissection of her processes. She does however lend the image of the respectable pop artist to the event and all of the sensible seriousness that age naturally conveys.
Arcade Fire- 8/10
From glancing at the desktop screens of the 40-45 year old white male contingent at work (the ones who buy a vinyl a week, still love guitar music, hate Dance Music and think Jimi Hendrix was the last Black musician worth listening to) , it’s abundantly clear that Arcade Fire is one of the few bands that have emerged in the last 10 years that they believe are worth listening to. They also appeal to the 25-30 market as the band that reminds them of their teenage/early-twenties obsession with authenticity.
Beyoncé has managed to expand her audience year-on-year, indie and alternative crowds have largely stopped turning their nose up at her since guitar music starting having its very drawn-out identity crisis/death and it became cool to suddenly find an intense love of 90s RnB, her loyal fans have followed her from good Southern Christian girl through to sexually-liberated pop-feminism icon and the Buzzfeed-reading masses continue to annoy me by regurgitating Queen Be(y?)-related memes and ‘listcicles.’ Essentially, there are few people with any kind of strong opposition to Beyoncé (my iPad keyboard is even adding the accent to the ‘e’ automatically) and her legions of loyal fans will likely follow her wherever she goes. Plus she’s Jay’s wife so yeah.
Calvin Harris- 4/10
Does the average person who listens to EDM-superstar DJ and producer Calvin Harris care enough about sound quality to spend £19.99 a month or have any sincere desire to hear his album a week prior to it’s release? Nope, they will hear it at Oceana (that still around?), on the radio in the car or via Facebook when one of their friends shares the video and proclaims it to be the ‘tune of the summer’ or whatever.
Chris Martin of Coldplay- 6/10
It’s too easy to poke fun at ‘plain white bread with a glass of water on the side for dipping’ musical-equivalent Coldplay. Jay Z thinks they’re amazing and they make more money that you and I because the general population also loves them. No they’re not particularly inspiring and they seem to be even less so when they try to be but they do appeal to a lot of people with their faux-sincerity and traditional line up and general sound. It’s not too hard to visualise someone wanting to hear their album early or in an enhanced-quality format but they do lose points for doing so darned boring at an event about innovation and risk-taking.
Daft Punk 8.5/10
The interesting thing about Daft Punk is their ability to maintain a strong foothold in both commercial and mainstream markets. You’d have to have been deaf not to have heard ‘Get Lucky’ at least 123 times a couple of summers ago yet they still have the ear of more committed dance music heads. Their credentials are well established and it’s not much of a stretch to imagine consumers shelling out extra dough to hear their music in higher quality, enjoy an extensive interview and be amongst the first to hear their new album.
C’mon son! Really? Is any Deadmau5 fan really that concerned about sound quality? Yes they might buy noise-cancelling headphones but £19.99 can go towards club night entry, MDMA ( Do EDM bros do MD?), drinks etc. Plus they’re not gonna be too bummed about waiting an extra week for the latest release if they’re likely to hear all the worthy hits at the Euro-dance festival they’re headed to in Croatia are they?
Jack White 8.5/10
Attracting the same kind of ‘real music’ crowd as the Arcade Fire listeners (probably more so), Jack White is a strong fit. These Dad-lads love a bit of Blues rock and will probably enjoy hearing Jack’s revivalism in high quality.
Jason Aldean ?
Idk who that is
J Cole 7.5/10
Ok probably. His fans are more interested in lyrics than his Kanye circa-College Dropout production but they’ll likely want the exclusive release and will be interested in hearing him break down his thought processes at length.
Jay Z- 9/10
Widely respected and hella revered in most circles (barring the uber-crusties from Oasis), Jay Z fits the market very well. Granted a lot of people managed to illegally download Magna Carta Holy Grail when it was ‘exclusively released’ to Samsung early but I’m confident that loyal fans and general well-wishers will get a kick out of early releases and documentaries. This is sure to resonate with the 25-30 market who don’t generally have time to pursue illegal downloading as much anymore and who have relinquished previous music-snobbery in favour of mainstream glasto-headliners and cautious poptimism.
Kanye West- 8/10
There are certain risks with Yeezy due to his divisive nature as both an artist and an individual. However, his association with the mighty Kardashian dynasty has allowed him to become a household name even as his music becomes more and more left-field and irreverent. I don’t doubt for a second that people will be excited to hear his new material prior to official release and his interviews have become infamous for descending into rants or visionary proclamations depending on your stance (definitely the latter for me). Fans should also be eager to hear new releases in the ‘lossless’ format considering the fact that production is Mr West’s strong suite and he is likely to also call-in the services of a range of exciting supporting producers to assist.
Bit of guesswork here, I don’t actually know anyone who listens to Madonna (not necessarily denigrating old Madge- just not my circles). All I can think of is people who know her early work from generally being a young adult in the 80s and I don’t think they’ll be too fussed about sound quality or exclusives. Nevertheless she remains a big name by virtue of having been the ‘Queen of Pop’ and adjusting to each generation’s cultural whims enough to remain vaguely relevant and that should count for something I imagine.
Nicki Minaj 6.5
It’s quite possible that this could interest 25-30 year olds and she has shed some of the pop-centric attributes in her latest release. You also get the feeling that she means business, so whilst I’m not sure that people will flock to the service for the £19.99 package in order to hear her mystic and anything else on offer, she does seem to have fit the tone of the event.
Another beneficiary of the growing respectability of pop music, Rihanna’s audience seems to be widening. With loyal fans and loyal detractors (fine lines people!) seemingly eager to discuss her music when and where possible it’s certainly plausible that consumers might be tempted by early releases but I’m skeptical about them caring about the sound quality enough to invest.
This one really depends on which direction he takes on his next release. If it’s something more innovative and relatively different like ‘Climax’ or something vibesy and incredibly well-produced like the ‘Confessions’ album then this could go up to a 7. If however we get something that panders to popular EDM-type dance floors then it seems that there’s little argument to be had in favour of including Usher in an event promoting high-quality streaming through an artist-friendly platform that also throws in stuff like in-depth interviews and ‘making-of’ content.
Time will tell how well Tidal fares in this competitive yet also sinking market. I can’t seem to shake the sense that this is best understood as an experiment rather than an enterprise that is certain to reap significant rewards although part of me is glad that the surrounding debate has manifested itself in some form of positive action. Also why no Kendrick Lamar? I reckon he would have fit perfectly.