Tidal, the Jay Z-led music-streaming service, recently relaunched at the end of March with a roster of high-profile celebrity backers, like Madonna, Rihanna and Kanye West. The event was much more than an obvious photo-opp; it was a statement: In addition to a ceremonial pact signing, the group of over a dozen artists pledged to tackle fair compensation and improve the current state of streaming affairs for consumers and musicians. Part of this strategy involves offering content exclusive to Tidal. And while extra content is nice, it becomes worrisome when the exclusive bits take the form of much-anticipated full album releases. That seems to be Tidal's plan to lure and retain subscribers. It's a business plan that could very well kill the streaming-music vibe for everyone, especially when we've become used to an all-you-can-stream listening habit.
Madonna had to get comfy before signing the pact.
Look, I get it. The best way for these services to attract new users is to promote what makes them different. When your business is providing content, you need stuff that no one else has, and that's what Tidal has been trying to do since its launch. Earlier this month, Beyoncé's new song, an anniversary present to Jay Z (real name: Shawn Carter), debuted exclusively on that service. And that behavior's nothing new for streaming-music services. In fact, Spotify regularly releases its Spotify Sessions live recordings with artists like Meghan Trainor, Ryan Adams and many other artists. It also serves up Spotify Commentary versions of albums, in addition to timed releases. And Rdio does something similar with live EPs, and bonus tracks. I'm all for added content that complements the regular albums, but when the differentiation becomes exclusive artist rosters rather than the so-called bonus content, the cost for consumers looking for choice begins to add up. It's either sign up for multiple streaming services or find another way to listen (hello, piracy).
Are the artists really in control?
Jack White performs on The Tonight Show in February.
Let's look at Jack White, for example. White is one of the artists that took the stage alongside a dozen or so others a couple weeks ago to declare his part ownership in Tidal. He owns a label, Third Man Records, that published not only his solo work, but also that of his previous acts The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. Since labels typically handle distribution, which would include any deals with streaming services, White seemingly has the final say as far as his music is concerned and can license it however he wants. In this case, his work is licensed to Columbia Records, a company with a much larger distribution network than his own outfit.