Why Does Kanye West Want to Squash the Tidal-Apple 'Beef'?
When Kanye West speaks -- or, more often these days, tweets -- fans tend to listen. Whether some of the top executives at Apple will, however, remains to be seen.
Over the weekend, West took to Twitter, unprompted, to call for an easing of relations between streaming services Apple Music and Tidal, which have been battling behind the scenes to land ever-bigger exclusives in the race to accumulate streaming subscribers. "This Tidal Apple beef is fucking up the music game," he wrote. "I need Tim Cook Jay Z Dez Jimmy Larry me and Drake Scooter on the phone or in a room this week!!! ... Fuck all this dick swinging contest. We all gon be dead in 100 Years. Let the kids have the music. ... Apple give Jay his check for Tidal now and stop trying to act like you Steve."
Unless West knows something that no one else does, his tweets were likely in response to a report on June 30 that Apple was in talks to purchase Tidal, one of its main streaming competitors, a story that sources denied to Billboard at the time. The comments also arrive as the streaming world is getting increasingly crowded -- Deezer recently launched in the U.S., while Pandora and Vevo are expected to launch subscription streaming services in the near future -- and advertising dollars are flying from Apple Music, YouTube, Pandora and Spotify. (West later included Spotify chief Daniel Ek in his proposed streaming summit.) But despite his seemingly pure call to "let the kids have the music," there are plenty of other factors at play here.
First is Kanye's ever-evolving stance on streaming and exclusives in general; earlier this year, he semi-released his latest album The Life of Pablo as a Tidal-only streaming exclusive, letting it simmer for six weeks on the service while he tinkered with the masters and declared it "will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale... You can only get it on Tidal." That was followed, of course, by an about-face in early April when Pablo was released wide to every service (including Apple Music) and for sale on his own website. Tidal's biggest moves of 2016 so far have been with high-profile exclusive albums from Rihanna, Beyonce and West (not to mention Prince's catalog), while Apple has countered with Drake, Chance the Rapper and Future (and a possible upcoming project from Frank Ocean), making West a key part of the "beef" he now wants to squash.
Second is the question of scale, with Spotify's 30 million paid subscribers (and approximately 100 million total monthly users) and Apple's 15 million subscribers dwarfing the three million Tidal last claimed at the end of March. With that relatively small footprint, Tidal-only streaming exclusives have struggled to maintain chart dominance. Pablo, due to its six-week suspended release during which West's team asked Tidal to withhold reporting its streams to Nielsen Music, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 only after being released wide to all services -- and with last-minute sales pushing it above Chris Stapleton's Traveler. Beyonce's Lemonade, a 24-hour Tidal exclusive that was released for sale to retailers the following day but has remained a Tidal streaming exclusive, hit No. 1 upon its release and set a streaming record -- only to have it immediately broken the following week by the arrival of the Apple exclusive release of Drake's Views.
Which raises the question of why these artists have segmented the streaming population at all -- West, Rihanna and Beyonce are among the 16 original (now up to 20) artist-owners of Jay Z's Tidal, for which they all received a reported three percent stake in the company. If lower subscribers and slower growth have cut into artists' bottom lines, it would make sense that West would call for a the streaming detente -- if Apple were to "give Jay his check for Tidal," of course, each artist-owner would cash out on the deal. And while Tidal, as a private company, does not release its financials, it's certainly worth more than the $56 million Jay Z put up for the service in early 2015.
There's also the consideration of money being paid to musicians; namely, how much Apple has been flashing at artists in the past year. Drake's Apple/Beats 1 deal paid out a reported $19 million. For its television commercials featuring Taylor Swift and DJ Khaled, the company poured in an estimated $7.6 million, according to TV-ad researcher iSpot.TV. And it's also struck exclusive deals with Chance the Rapper, Future, Blake Shelton, Katy Perry, Kygo, Zayn, Snoop Dogg and Swift, among others, for everything from album releases to tour sponsorships to documentaries to commercials, with at least one of those deals rumored to have a $10 million price tag. And Spotify, with the recent hire of Troy Carter to head its global creative services, that company is expected to get into exclusives soon as well.
It's possible the West, as many fans have expressed, is simply tired of the runaround that either forces fans to subscribe to several similar services or ushers them towards pirating albums to which they lack access. But it's unlikely that the names he mentioned -- Tim Cook, Jimmy Iovine and Larry Jackson from Apple Music; Jay Z and Desiree Perez from Tidal/Roc Nation; Spotify's Ek; and Drake, himself and his manager Scooter Braun -- would be able to sit down and end the practice of exclusives. For one, the battle between Apple and Spotify has gotten more bitter in recent weeks, as executives fight back and forth in the media over app prices and the fairness of royalty payouts. And it would seem to make little sense for Apple to lay out the millions it would cost to acquire Tidal solely for its subscribers or just to eliminate a competitor. Reps for Apple Music, Tidal and Spotify declined to comment, though all three companies said they were not behind his tweets; reps for Tidal and Apple Music denied that they were in negotiations for a sale.
Regardless, West's tweets, welcomed by plenty of fans on social media, have more context behind them than letting the kids hear the music. Whether it actually leads to change, as his best frenemy Taylor Swift's frustration with Apple did last summer, is open for debate.