Jay Z's Plan for Streaming Music: A Service Owned by Artists ; in a Switch, Performers Would Control How Their Work Is Consumed

By Sisario, Ben | International New York Times, April 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Jay Z's Plan for Streaming Music: A Service Owned by Artists ; in a Switch, Performers Would Control How Their Work Is Consumed


Sisario, Ben, International New York Times


In a business where artists seldom have direct control over how their work is consumed, musicians will be the majority owners of the company.

As Jay Z sees it, there is a clear solution to the problems facing musicians in the streaming age. They should band together -- behind him, of course.

Jay Z, the rap star and entertainment mogul, has announced his plans for Tidal, a subscription streaming service he recently bought for $56 million. Facing competition from Spotify, Google and other companies that will soon include Apple, Tidal will be fashioned as a home for high-fidelity audio and exclusive content.

But perhaps the most notable part of Jay Z's strategy is that a majority of the company will be owned by artists. The move may bring financial benefits for those involved, but it is also powerfully symbolic in a business where musicians have seldom had direct control over how their work is consumed.

"This is a platform that's owned by artists," Jay Z said in an interview last week. "We are treating these people that really care about the music with the utmost respect."

The plan was unveiled on Monday at a brief but highly choreographed news conference in Manhattan, where Jay Z stood alongside more than a dozen musicians identified as Tidal's owners. They included Rihanna, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Alicia Keys, the country singer Jason Aldean, the French dance duo Daft Punk (in signature robot costumes), members of Arcade Fire, and Beyonce, Jay Z's wife.

The stars stood side-by-side and signed an unspecified "declaration." Jay Z did not speak, but Ms. Keys read a statement expressing the musicians' wish "to forever change the course of music history."

Jay Z's plan is the latest entry in an escalating battle over streaming music, which has become the industry's fastest-growing revenue source but has also drawn criticism for its economic model. Major record labels, as well as artists like Taylor Swift, have also openly challenged the so-called freemium model advocated by Spotify, which offers free access to music as a way to lure customers to paying subscriptions.

Tidal, which makes millions of songs and thousands of high- definition videos available in 31 countries, will have no free version. Instead, it will have two subscription tiers defined by audio quality: $10 a month for a compressed format (the standard on most digital outlets) and $20 for CD-quality streams.

"The challenge is to get everyone to respect music again, to recognize its value," said Jay Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter. "Water is free. Music is $6 but no one wants to pay for music. You should drink free water from the tap -- it's a beautiful thing. And if you want to hear the most beautiful song, then support the artist."

As a superstar artist and influential executive through his company Roc Nation, Jay Z has unusual power in the music industry. He is said to be courting new artists aggressively to join the service and offer Tidal special material and "windows," or limited periods of exclusive availability. Yet Jay Z is entering the streaming fray as a boutique competitor against some of the most powerful companies in the business. Spotify has 60 million users around the world, 15 million of whom pay; Apple is expected to introduce a subscription streaming service this year. …

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