One year ago today, the music world stood by wondering what, exactly, Jay Z was cooking up this time. The rapper, mogul and music executive was fresh off a $56 million purchase of Norwegian digital streaming company Aspiro — which had brought its Tidal service to the U.S. in October 2014 to little fanfare — and, according to sources, was plotting a “splashy” press conference in New York City to announce, presumably, what he planned to do with it.
What viewers got the afternoon of March 30, 2015 when tuning into the live stream on Tidal.com was a collection of 16 of the biggest, most successful artists on the planet across a slew of genres — hip-hop, pop, country, dance, rock — announcing that Tidal would be the first-ever artist-owned streaming service, with the idea to pay a higher royalty rate and cater to artists in a way that its new competitors like Spotify had not. Alicia Keys delivered a manifesto of sorts (and quoted Nietzsche), Madonna had climbed on a table, deadmau5 and Daft Punk had to be separated to avoid a clash of overly-large helmets, and suddenly, after 10 strange minutes, it was over.
The re-launch of Tidal bred excitement, confusion and a fair bit of derision for its gaudy fanfare at James A. Farley Post Office in New York’s Herald Square. Its goals were laudatory: high-quality audio and video streaming, a dedication to battle against the growing artist disillusionment with streaming service profits and a commitment to serve artists first by inviting artists to own their own distribution platform. But the optics of the event opened it up to criticism that the 16 artists — those mentioned above, as well as Beyonce, Kanye West, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Jason Aldean, Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, Calvin Harris, Arcade Fire, J. Cole, Usher and Jack White, all who received a three percent stake in Tidal — were “music’s one percent,” claiming to be fighting a battle that, frankly, didn’t affect them as much as it did the independent artists who had been initially excluded.
But through a dedication to exclusive content, near-relentless public relations efforts, a consistent stream of live streams, original video series and its status as the New Kid on the Streaming Block trying to get artists paid, Tidal has survived through a rocky first 12 months and grown in the process. One year after that now-infamous launch event, Billboard looks back at Tidal by the numbers.
SUBSCRIBERS — 2015: 540k (17k HiFi) | 2016: 3m (~1.35m HiFi)
The most significant number for Tidal’s bottom line, and an impressive one in its first 12 months, is its announcement yesterday (March 29) that it had surpassed three million subscribers — adding 2.5 million to the 540,000 at its launch — for a service that does not have a free tier. Its HiFi platform, which goes for $19.99/month compared to its regular tier at $9.99, accounts for 45 percent of those subscriptions, the service says, extrapolating out to around 1.35 million subscribers. Much of this can presumably be attributed to the Tidal-only exclusive on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo; back in October 2015, Jay hosted a star-studded Barclays Center show to celebrate the service passing one million subscribers, and some reports indicated that that number doubled after Pablo was released Feb. 14. Regardless, it still means the company lags far behind Spotify (30 million) and Apple Music (11 million) in the streaming wars.
ARTIST OWNERS — 2015: 16 | 2016: 20
In the past year, Tidal has added four new artist-owners to bring its current total to 20, and those names have hardly been under the radar. Damian Marley, T.I., French band Indochine and, perhaps most surprisingly, Lil Wayne have all signed on since the initial 16 artists signed on the dotted line a year ago. Wayne already released his Free Weezy Album on the service (which brought the ire of his Cash Money label boss Birdman to the tune of a $50 million lawsuit), while Tip delivered the first single off his forthcoming tenth album, Tha Dime Trap, exclusively on Tidal last month.?
CEOs — 3
Andy Chen, Peter Tonstad and now former Soundcloud exec Jeff Toig have all had the reigns in what has been a tumultuous, to say the least, C-Suite situation since Tidal’s re-launch. Toig came in in December to right the ship and, according to one source, continue to streamline positions and shift the operational headquarters into the United States from its Scandinavian origins. But still the executive turntable continues to spin; on March 1, the company fired two top-level execs in the latest of several high-level shakeups at Tidal.
AVAILABLE TRACKS — 2015: 25m | 2016: ~40m
At a certain scale these numbers become negligible, particularly because each top-level streaming service has similar deals with the major labels, which account for the majority of songs available, but Tidal can be considered to have as complete an offering as any other service at this point.
MUSIC VIDEOS — 2015: 75k | 2016: 130k
One section that Tidal can, and has, differentiated itself is in its video offerings. Its 130,000 music videos can now be incorporated into playlists within the service, meaning users can create video-only playlists or combine video and audio depending on preference. Spotify recently also launched a video (and podcast) platform in January with an impressive list of content partners, though it has largely skated under the radar. Where Tidal really proves its worth is with exclusives here; though exclusive music videos have been relatively rare (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce have premiered music videos on Tidal, though few others have), its Tidal X performances and festival streams, as well as non-music content like Daft Punk’s Electroma film and Erykah Badu‘s western, have diversified its appeal.
GLOBAL AVAILABILITY — 2015: 31 | 2016: 46
Tidal has particularly ramped up its availability in Latin American territories, and has worked to offer performances and streams that cater specifically to the particular demographics that it enters. Consider, for example, the Tidal X concert by Yandel, its first Latin live stream produced by boxing champ Miguel Cotto, which debuted shortly after it became available in Puerto Rico.
EXCLUSIVE ALBUM RELEASES — 9
Kanye West, The Life of Pablo
Prince, HITNRUN Phase One
Prince, HITNRUN Phase Two
Lil Wayne, Free Weezy Album
The Dead Weather, Dodge and Burn
Judith Hill, Back In Time
Andy Allo and Prince, Oui Can Luv
EXCLUSIVE PLAYLISTS — 166
Artist-curated playlists have been an easy slam dunk for streaming services in the past few years, and Apple Music has taken it to the next level with its Beats 1 radio shows hosted by the likes of Drake, Dr. Dre, DJ Khaled and many more. But this is where Tidal’s artist-owners can really pay off: what other service can offer curated playlists from Jay, Bey and Usher? Add to that non-owners like Gwen Stefani, Macklemore, Giorgio Moroder, Seal and Justin Bieber — as well as legendary hip-hop execs like Lyor Cohen and Irv Gotti — and Tidal has plenty up its sleeve here.
LIVE STREAMS — 44
Live streams have grown to be some of Tidal’s bread and butter, particularly with its Tidal X concerts (T.I., Jeezy, Jay, Coldplay in Paris, Jack White acoustic), all featuring exclusive or rare performances. They’ve also streamed festivals — Made In America being an obvious one, but Hot 97’s Summer Jam and Wayne’s Lil Weezyana included — and things as completely random as the Papal visit to Philadelphia last summer. But it hasn’t come without its growing pains; despite 23 million people tuning in to Kanye’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden in February, Tidal was beset by server issues that submarined its high-quality video and forced fans to watch a grainy depiction of one of the most anticipated events of 2016 to date.
… AND A TIMELINE
March 30 — Launch in NYC.
April 17 — Tidal CEO Andy Chen leaves the company in a “restructuring” that includes the shuttering of its Stockholm headquarters, replaced by interim CEO Peter Tonstad.
April 26 — Jack White’s final acoustic show of his tour in Fargo, N.D. becomes Tidal’s first-ever live stream; the same day, Jay Z goes on a Twitter spree to defend the service against negative publicity using the hashtag #TidalFacts.
May 16/17 — Jay Z performs two intimate “Tidal X: B-Sides” shows at Terminal 5 in New York City.
June 4 — Lil Wayne comes aboard as a co-owner and Tidal announces a partnership with Ticketmaster to allow fans to purchase concert tickets from within the app. Also, lower student and family pricing.
June 8 — Confirmed as a Tidal artist-owner until dropping out two days before its launch event, Drake officially endorses rival Apple Music at WWDC.
June 23 — After just three months on the job, interim CEO Peter Tonstad exits the company.
July 4 — Tied up in litigation at his parent label Cash Money Records, Lil Wayne drops his Free Weezy Album exclusively on Tidal — which causes Birdman to file a $50 million lawsuit against Jay Z and Tidal two weeks later.
Sept. 7 — After removing his catalog from every streaming service but Tidal in July, Prince releases the first of two HitNRun albums exclusively for sale and streaming on the service — the first retail album for the previously streaming-only company.
Oct. 20 — To celebrate Tidal reaching one million paid subscribers, Jay Z pulls out his Rolodex and throws the Tidal X 10/20 show at the Barclays Center with Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Nas, Usher, DJ Khaled, French Montana and more, including Damian Marley, announced as the 18th artist-owner of the service. The concert raised approximately $1 million for the nonprofit New World Foundation, distributed to Black Lives Matter and social justice groups.
Oct. 26 — Tidal inks a first-of-its-kind content deal to rebrand the Barclays Center’s theater configuration as the Tidal Theater.
Nov. 2 — After adding the second season of YouTube-distributed hit web series Money & Violence to its offerings, Tidal announces its first-ever foray into original video content with Cipha Sounds’ comedy series No Small Talk.
Dec. 2 — Without a CEO since late June, Tidal announces that former Soundcloud exec Jeff Toig is taking over as its third CEO in nine months.
Jan. 27, 2016 — In its most high-profile release yet, Rihanna’s Anti album accidentally appears on Tidal five hours before its scheduled release, sending the leak around the internet and causing Tidal and Universal Music Group to point fingers over whose fault it was.
Feb. 11, 2016 — Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden — which includes the first-ever listen of his latest album, The Life of Pablo — is live-streamed in front of Tidal’s paywall; with more than 23 million fans tuning in, it crashes Tidal’s hi-def video quality.
Feb. 22, 2016 — T.I. signs a distribution deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation and becomes Tidal’s 19th artist owner.
Feb. 29, 2016 — Following class action lawsuits against Spotify and other streamers, Tidal is sued for not paying royalties to artists.
March 29, 2016 — Tidal announces it has surpassed three million paid subscribers worldwide, and announces its 20th artist-owner, French band Indochine.