As I peruse through my Tidal account for Alicia Keys’ new album Here, I quickly realize the project (which is phenomenal, by the way) is sitting on all streaming platforms and not the Tidal exclusive I assumed it would be.
My mini-realization is warranted. The “In Common” singer is one of 16 owners of the streaming service and the latest to release a project after exclusive releases from fellow co-owners Kanye West, Beyonce, James Aldean and Rihanna. Tidal users have gotten used to getting music first (that is, except for Frank Ocean and Adele’s latest albums) and asking questions later. We can deny it all we want but as consumers, we want to be the ones to boast about the latest album, shoe, pasta strainer, etc. first and when we don’t, we feel like losers.
Spearheaded by Jay Z in 2015, the company promised to “support the artists, create a sustainable music industry, and deliver the high-quality music and experiences that fans crave.” During its celeb-heavy launch in March 2015, Ms. Keys quoted Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and explained their mission was bigger than music. “We’re gathered … with one voice, in unity,” she’d said, “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.”
While the exclusive content wasn’t the biggest promise the company made, it helped keep them in music lovers’ good graces. Within a year, subscription had grown to three million after starting with a mere 500,000 before Jay’s acquisition. Many of the new listeners were due to Ye’s release of The Life of Pablo, Beyonce’s Lemonade and undoubtedly the presence of Prince’s entire discography. Before the Purple One transcended to the heavens, he removed his music from Spotify and Apple, allowing Tidal to become the only streaming service in the game to have the singer’s much-coveted catalog. But that “exclusive” might mean less these days.
Over the weekend, it was reported that Prince’s estate sold songwriting rights to Universal Music Publishing Group, allowing the company to release the songwriter’s music whenever and wherever they please. Now with one of their biggest assets losing steam, the company promises “it will seek injunctive relief if any deals by Prince’s estate violate its agreement with him, which Tidal asserts included a ‘Hit n Run’ remix album, another new album and rights to his catalog.”
Tidal’s growth has now been pushed to the side. Apple has successfully reached 17 million subscribers, but Spotify still leads the competition with over 40 million paid subscribers. Tidal and Apple have had several public riffs, including reports in June that the latter would be taking over Jay’s brainchild. “We’re really running our own race,” Jimmy Iovine, head of Apple Music head told BuzzFeed News, squashing the rumors. “We’re not looking to acquire any streaming services.”
So now, Tidal is left riding the wave they’ve helped create: exclusive content. But that wave in itself is slowly dying. Spotify has decided not to buy exclusives from artists and UMG is looking to ban artists from releasing their projects to streaming companies. As a very fruitful year in music comes to a close, what is Tidal to do? The answer is very simple since they’ve had it all along: focus on the artist.
No, not these artists. New fresh artists whose music accumulates in the phones and playlists of aux party DJs. They’re also the artists that fill the company’s Rising channel. Artists like Young M.A, KAMAU and ABRA are enjoying the space Tidal allows listeners to fall into and not be overshadowed by the big dogs. Putting the artist first by having events like the Sennheiser x Tidal showcase honestly present the company’s mission statement in real time.
Jay Z said it himself during his Terminal 5 show last year that he refused to be a pawn in the streaming game. “You know n***as died for equal pay, right? You know when I work, I ain’t your slave, right?” Take heed to your own words and don’t let your strong but small allegiance of subscribers feel the same way.