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.
On Monday, Jay Z, the rap star and entertainment mogul, unveiled 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 as he prepared last week for the news conference announcing the service. “We are treating these people that really care about the music with the utmost respect.”
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Among those who are part of Tidal’s new deal are Coldplay, Rihanna, Daft Punk, Alicia Keys, Calvin Harris, Drake, Usher and Arcade Fire, as well as Beyoncé, Jay Z’s wife.
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 such as 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.
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 artists aggressively to join the service and offer Tidal special material and “windows,” or limited periods of exclusive availability.
Lucian Grainge, the chairman of the Universal Music Group, said he welcomed Tidal’s arrival.
“We like lots of services, and we like lots of competition,” Grainge said. “Jay is an artist as well as an entrepreneur. He’s a winner, and we like winners.”
On Twitter, reaction to the new service was mixed.