Musician Alicia Keys was the main speaker at tonight’s press conference for Tidal, the streaming music service a company owned by Jay Z recently bought for $56m.
Her speech didn’t give many details about how Tidal plans to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple in the digital music space, but the key phrase was this: “The first ever artist owned global music and entertainment platform.”
Keys was one of a large group of artists taking the stage at the US event alongside Jay Z and other “owners of Tidal” – Win Butler and Regine Chassagne from Arcade Fire, Beyoncé, Calvin Harris, Chris Martin, Daft Punk (in helmets, natch), Jack White, Jason Aldean, J Cole, Jay Z, Kanye West, Deadmau5 (yes, helmet), Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher.
Harris and Martin joined by video-call, while the rest appeared on-stage in a starry show of force, with the event opened by Roc Nation’s chief investment officer Vania Schlogel.
“Tonight is still just the beginning of an exciting path ahead,” she said. “Tidal is a global and rapidly expanding streaming platform. We are here today to offer something different: a platform owned by artists… as dynamic as the artists behind it… Today marks the true beginning of a mission to change the status quo, to reestablish the value of music.”
Jay Z did not speak at the event, leaving Keys to deliver a mission statement for Tidal. “This is incredible. This is so powerful. Look how we can all do this together… it’s feeling like a graduation,” said Keys.
“Jimi Hendrix once said that music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in the world, then it can only happen through music. An overstatement? Maybe, but maybe not. After all, there is truth in the old adage that music makes the world go round.”
“How much do we love our music? How much do we love this thing called music? So we come together before you this day, March 30 2015, in one voice in unity, in the hopes that today will be another one of those moments in time, a moment that will forever change the course of music history… Tidal, the first ever artist owned global music and entertainment platform,” she continued.
“Our goal is simple: we wanna create a better service and a better experience for both fans and artists… Our mission goes beyond commerce, it goes beyond technology. Our intent is to preserve music’s importance in our lives.”
“Music is so powerful, and that is what Tidal will be. A place for connection between artists and fans, where we will deliver exclusive experiences that cannot be found anywhere else… and we have joined in Tidal for the preservation of an industry, and to deliver music and experiences in a way that is best for the consumer… a sound business enterprise that promotes the health and sustainability of our art and our industry around the world.”
Keys ended by quoting Nietzsche – “Without music, life would be a mistake” – before inviting the other artists to join her in signing a declaration on-stage. And then they all left, with further details of those “exclusive experiences” to follow in the coming months.
Jay Z has been talking to Billboard though, in an interview published as the press conference finished. In it, he described the motivations behind getting into the streaming market.
“We saw the movement and how everything was going and figured that this could possibly be the last music format that we see in this lifetime. We didn’t like the direction music was going and thought maybe we could get in and strike an honest blow and if, you know, the very least we did was make people wake up and try to improve the free vs. paid system, and promote fair trade, then it would be a win for us anyway.”
He also confirmed that all the founding artists have equity in Tidal, and stressed that what he doesn’t intend to build is a rival to the major labels.
“I think the labels were a bit suspicious that we were creating a record company. It’s not a record company; if anything, it’s a record store. I have a record company. I don’t want another label. I’m happy with what I’m doing. But some were suspicious,” he said.
“So yeah, I think there is a bit of paranoia in the beginning and there may still be, and I think we’ll work through that because it will be a very difficult thing for a label to tell artists when they’re streaming their music everywhere else that they won’t stream it on an artist-owned platform. I don’t see how any label can stand in front of anyone and justify that.”
Already today, Tidal had quietly revealed (in tweets) that it’s introducing a new $9.99-a-month subscription, minus the lossless streaming quality but including the editorial, music videos and other features. That will compete head-to-head with rival services, leaving the $19.99 tier for audiophiles.
Earlier in the day, a parade of musicians had declared their support for Tidal by changing their Twitter profile and header pictures blue (well, cyan) and tweeting out its #TIDALforALL hashtag. Most of them appeared on-stage at the press conference.
Tidal launched in the US and UK in October 2014, and has since extended to 31 countries – although those include Scandinavian countries where Aspiro’s existing service, WiMP, was recently rebranded as Tidal. Combined, the services ended 2014 with 500,000 paying users.
Under normal circumstances, that scale wouldn’t give Tidal enough clout to secure many exclusives on big new albums, given the competition provided by Spotify and Apple’s iTunes.
Both those services are gearing up to strike similar deals for early access to hot new albums, but just as importantly, they’re both making noises behind the scenes about their willingness (or lack of it) to support artists who give exclusives to rivals.
Indeed, the Billboard interview with Jay Z refers openly to a rumour that Apple’s Jimmy Iovine has been “trying to lure people” from Tidal’s first-tier group of artists by offering them “more money upfront” – a suggestion that Jay Z did not deny.
“I think that’s just his competitive nature, and I don’t know if he’s looking at the bigger picture: That it’s not about me and it’s not about him; it’s about the future of the music business,” he said.
Even so, labels will be understandably skittish of falling foul of Apple – and, indeed, Spotify – to grant first windows for new albums to a service with half a million subscribers. But then it depends what the exclusives are – they might not be full albums, after all.
Interesting times ahead, then. But the press conference and interview showed Tidal’s founding artists’ determination to make the service a player in the increasingly competitive streaming music market.
“Will artists make more money? Even if it means less profit for our bottom line, absolutely. That’s easy for us. We can do that. Less profit for our bottom line, more money for the artist; fantastic. Let’s do that today,” said Jay Z.