Tidal music launch: Pop plutocrats pour FLAC on rival Spotify

Like a sort of United Artists thing, but for music?

Pop mega-stars including potty-mouthed rapper Jay-Z, professional non-smiler Kanye West and someone called Madonna have “launched” a music-streaming service owned by the artists.

It includes a “lossless” FLAC audio quality $19.99-per-month tier, and there’s no ad-supported version.

Jay-Z spent $56m this year on Aspiro, which operates two streaming companies – Norway’s Wimp and Tidal – so he isn’t starting from scratch. The service has some 500,000 listeners on board already, including 35,000 in the UK.

The stars' involvement adds new equity and a lot of hype. At a splashy launch, the stars signed on to the strains of Radiohead’s 'The National Anthem'. But will their suffering (and ours) be worth it?

The venture has persuaded 16 global platinum-selling artists from the past decade to put their money where their big mouths are, most notably Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Alicia Keys, Chris Martin (him from Coldplay) and Jack White. The 44KHz, 16-bit format is around seven times the bitrate used by Spotify’s subscription streaming, while the ad-supported service uses an even lower quality.

At other times this might be dismissed as a vanity venture, were it not for artists' backlash against Spotify and other streaming services. Last year, Taylor Swift removed her back catalogue from systems which offer a free, ad-supported service and launched the year’s biggest selling album via a la carte download.

Spotify founder Daniel Ek infuriated artists further with a defence of Spotify that mentioned piracy or pirates a dozen times: “If we want to drive people to pay for music, we have to compete with free to get their attention in the first place,” he wrote.

Adding to the disgruntlement, streaming services don’t exactly appear to be on a rocket-like ascent: Spotify added a million users over Christmas, but they were lured by a $1-per-month giveaway offer.

Tidal says it will pay twice the royalty streaming rate that rivals such as Spotify and Deezer play. This could be a lure for artists with established fanbases.

Billboard is bullish and points out there is a successful precedent from a century ago: United Artists Studios was founded by Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith, and had a 50-year run as a major independent.

There’s no doubt streaming has been better for the three remaining major record labels with deep back catalogs than for artists whose popularity is typically short-lived, but only earn fractions of pennies from streams rather the more substantial money offered by a la carte album sales.

(The Trichordist blog has a year-old index of per-stream pay rates here. The numbers make a compelling case for persuading your children to give up on becoming musicians, and perhaps try to be sustainability consultants instead.) ®


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