Reasonable Doubt: Tidal and the Ever-Changing Music Industry

By Morgan Whaley

With the scroll of twitter, my life changed. I see a hashtag called #tidalforall and so, curious, I’m wondering what is Tidal. So of course, being in the 21st century where I like my information fast and easy, I Google it and a YouTube video comes up. There are all these artists I have seen before with intense but inspirational music in the background, and then Jay- Z hugs one of the members of Daft Punk and calls this “a historic day”, and Beyoncé talks about “taking a stand”. And as this excitingly dramatic language continues, I think they have just found the perfect algorithm for world peace. What else could gather all these artists in one room speaking in this determined way? World hunger maybe? Nope. They want me to pay for music. To fully grasp this impending situation, we have to take a few steps back.

While hard to believe, the music industry has changed in many ways since and starting with the early 2000s. For starters, there had always been a problem with the music industry and the way labels, distribution, and pay works but these problems have grown more complex and twisted as the world evolves technologically. While some things never change, like the unfortunate situation where labels push their artist to conform with the general tastes more, the sales predicament has only gotten more complicated with introduction of streaming and digital downloads. This has caused artists to question the amount of control they have over their music. One of the first popular artists to respond with action was pop country singer Taylor Swift. After taking all of her music off of popular streaming site Spotify, she has spoken and proclaimed that this subsequent action and possibility of other artists taking similar action could change the future of music. In her Wall Street Journal article, For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love story, she lays out her predictions in a thoughtful and well-organized piece that is nothing less than what you would expect from her, stating “It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is”. But what I didn’t expect was for her prediction to come true.

Rapper and producer Jay-Z just purchased a streaming website called Tidal, making it an artist owned company with big name artists including his wife Beyoncé, Calvin Harris, Kanye West, Rihanna, Madonna, Jason Aldean, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Deadmau5, J.Cole, Alicia Keys, Chris Martin (Coldplay), Jack White, Daft Punk, and Arcade Fire, as stakeholders. So far so good, right? One of the main unique qualities of the service is its amazing CD-like quality, which is apparently a million times better than the average streaming website and the ability to view music videos. Even better!! Artists would potentially take their music off of services with free options like YouTube, Spotify, and Soundcloud. Ehh…ok. The cost is between two payment options of $9.99 and $20.00 a month with no free opt. This is where they lost me. This last fact about Tidal and the opinions of Taylor Swift, raises questions for not only the artists’ motives of this movement but the effects of it as well.

download (1)

One of the so-called motives for the anti- “free music” movement is art.  In Swift’s article, she proclaims that, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” I understand Swift’s reasoning as art is bought and sold all the time but an artist does not create art for money and nor do they often times expect it, but it’s a selfless act; it creates emotion. Valuable things are priceless. Secondly, I can go to the museum for little to no money but pay $14 for your new album. Swift naively mixes money and art but if she wants to we can.  According to the graphics on Swift’s article, the revenue in the music industry has dropped $8 billion in 10 years, from $15 billion 2003 to $7 billion in 2013. Artist blame streaming and piracy for this drop, which is a logical and true reason but also an incomplete one. While yes, I agree we should support the artists and piracy is not doing so, this did not cause the entire $8 billion drop. In 2003, 94.8% of revenue came from compact disc while in 2013, it was only 35% as not only are digital songs easier to obtain but also cut the cost of manufacturing that go into compact disc. In the commercial for Tidal Madonna says, “We are putting art back in the fore-front”, but I find it hard to believe so as the service is $10 to $20 a month.

Jay-Z tells the Billboard that “People are not respecting the music, and [are] devaluing it and devaluing what it means. People really like music is free, but will pay $6 for water. You can drink water free out the tap and it’s good water. But they’re OK paying for it. Its just the mind-set right now.” First, tap water, just like the 21% of music that is streamed, isn’t all that necessarily free. Commercials that play between songs pay for the service that free users enjoy and people pay water bills. Secondly, besides everyone who is a shareholder and supports Tidal, who buys $6 water bottles? Does it come with a burger and fries?  Lastly, listeners, myself included, see this as a way for these artists, the 1% of the music world, to greedily make more money than signify art, because by adding money into the equation, you have already defaced it.

There are some positive effects to the ideas like Tidal, including more control of an artist’s music and better quality, but the cons trump them. By having no free options like Spotify or YouTube, fans and could be fans, that cannot pay, are cut off from your music. This type of system that is being called game changing, but it puts up walls and places limits on who can and cannot listen to certain music. If this album was a painting, you just auctioned it off to the highest bidder so they could put it in a private establishment where no one will see it or enjoy it.  Free options for music are good for the artist, mainly the new and upcoming ones. If the music is free, it is more accessible and listeners will take more risks. I would be less willing to listen to a new artist or branch out of genres in fear it will be a waste of my money. But if I could click on your song consequence-free and I like it, I could love it. I could buy your memorabilia or your album or the real money make in the music world- your concert tickets.

In trying to find a solution to their problems, artist who object “free” music are distancing themselves from their fans. Artist are losing value to what’s important about making music; the ability to be apart of lives. To know that your words and melodies have their own space in some stranger’s memory. To back to when they were newborns in the music world and just wanted people to hear them no matter what. If artists, especially the ones with popularity and influence can truly put their art and its message before money, they just might change the world.

Image Source: Google