Jay Z‘s ambitious entrance into the streaming music business, which came as a surprise to industry observers, debuted Monday (March 30) at an event at New York’s James A. Farley Post Office in Herald Square with more than a few aces up its sleeves. About 16 of them, to be exact.
Tidal and WiMP, the two services under Swedish umbrella Aspiro, which he acquired earlier this month, will be the streaming home for artists like Shawn Carter himself, Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye West, Jack White, Arcade Fire, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, deadmau5, Jason Aldean, J. Cole and Madonna. (In case you didn’t notice, the group features a golden god from each of the most-liked music genres.) The general public first got wind of the launch just after midnight EST when artists began changing their Twitter avatars cyan-blue in support of the #TIDALforall hashtag. Additionally, Sprint was announced as Tidal’s first mobile carrier partner.
“People are not respecting the music, and devaluing what it really means,” Jay Z told Billboard. “People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water. You can drink water free out of the tap and it’s good water. But they’re okay paying for it. It’s just the mindset right now.”
Jay Z’s courting of Aspiro’s all-star team began just ahead of the Grammys in a top-secret meeting in Pasadena which brought West, Daft Punk, Minaj, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Jack White and Madonna together. Billboard has learned that each artist was offered a 3 percent stake in the company in order to secure exclusives that, Roc Nation is hoping, will drive consumers to subscribe at $19.99 per month for high-def audio, or $9.99 for a standard-definition tier (Tidal offers superior audio quality, which accounts for the higher price point, and no freemium option). The artists’ total equity in the company comes to just under a majority stake, at around 48 percent.
Significant questions remain about the structure of the company as it relates to its “executive artists,” foremost among them how their deals with Shawn Carter will affect their pre-existing record contracts. As well, the service has an uphill battle; Spotify has 15 million subscribers globally and second-place Deezer has 6 million. The most recent numbers for Tidal are at 540,000, according to the company.
That said, no other company is guaranteed to offer its customers a first listen of Rihanna’s new record, or Beyonce’s new video, or Calvin Harris’ new remix. Beyonce alone created a new paradigm for releases less than a year-and-a-half ago; Jay Z did the same with Magna Carta, Holy Grail the summer before . As well, Jay Z has never had an outright failure in his business dealings — though he is in the rare position of being an underdog.
“I feel like [an underdog] all the time,” Jay Z said. “I feel like I’m always pushing envelopes. I feel like I couldn’t get a record deal, I feel like, you know, when Hot 97 was the big station I was the first one on Power 105. When The Source was the biggest magazine I was first one on the cover of XXL.”