Over Easter, Lily Allen took to Twitter to critique Jay Z’s music streaming service Tidal. She’s not the the first person to oppose the opulence of its star-studded launch event last week, or to voice pessimism about its mantra of doing right by artists, but as a fellow songwriter – who, unlike Allen, is not a performer – I think she’s wrong in a number of ways.
First, Allen fears that not having an unlimited free tier “will send people back to pirate/torrent sites”. However, a major label executive recently told me that their statistics showed that if a user of the free version of Spotify hasn’t signed up for the paid-for tier within three months, they never will. The ad-funded version pays about the same as YouTube (ie next to nothing), so losing those users to YouTube isn’t much of a loss.
I’d rather have my music on a service that is majority-owned by music creators, rather than owned by venture capitalists looking for a quick turnaround on their investment, hoping to be able to cash out with a big IPO payday.
You only need to look at the major record labels, who now have to answer to shareholders wanting a quick return on their investments, to see what happens when it’s all about share value. It’s anathema to creativity and the kind of risk-taking that is required to invest in music people don’t yet know they want to listen to.
It’s no surprise that Jay Z is close to and has links to Beyonce, Kanye, Alicia Keys etc to be able to easily convince them to have exclusives of their work on Tidal before anywhere else, especially with the promise of higher cuts of the royalties back to them over services like Spotify, but at the end of the day subscribers will determine the long term popularity of switching their music platform of choice over from what they are used to – Even Rihanna had a difficult start yesterday. Jay Z and Tidal will have to compete with Spotify and Apple to ensure uptake in the service and that will be the key to all of this.