Posted by Mark Grainger 24 Apr 2015

Looking back at Jay Z's Tidal launch

Now that a little time has passed, it’s probably time to take a look at the somewhat disastrous relaunch of Jay Z’s music streaming service, Tidal. I’ll grab a mop and bucket.

On the face of it, Tidal doesn’t seem too remarkable. It’s basically a Spotify style streaming service but with an emphasis on high-quality audio. So far, so niche market appeal, but then global rap superstar Jay Z, husband of Beyoncé, went and bought it for $56 million. 

Obviously with such a huge creative force as Jay Z at the helm Tidal was never going to have a soft launch, but it’s hard not to think that they may have went a bit too far in the opposite direction.

What Jay Z did was to gather a lot of his friends in the music business, including Kanye West, Rihanna, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, Alicia Keys et al, for a twitter campaign, promotional video and live contract-signing event. It should have been an awe-inducing display of star power, leading lights taking control from a bloated industry, music’s Avengers assembling to fight for a fair shake for the less established bands of the world. That’s not what it looked like though.

To be fair to Jay Z and co, the event and social media campaign were fairly average affairs, but the video is where the damage was really done, with a horrendously misjudged tone being the reason why Tidal has been so harshly received in some quarters.

Put simply, it made this collection of multi-million selling artists look like a greedy cabal, a musical illuminati discussing the merits of their art and fans with the flat, distracted intonation that suggests bad acting whilst lounging around in an opulent pad wearing casual clothes that you suspect cost more than most people’s first car.

It wasn’t helped by Tidal’s relatively high sign-up cost, after all Jay Z may have 99 problems but a lack of money certainly ain’t one. Everything added up to paint a portrait of a super-rich who think it would be super if they could be just a bit richer, taking matters into their own hands to cut out those services that don’t pay out as much as they’d like.

The reaction wasn’t great. Lily Allen vented her spleen, Mumford & Sons labelled Tidal’s co-owners as plutocrats and many people took to twitter why these artists, many of them black, were pulling together to make money rather than address the world’s big issues such as social and racial inequality.

That last point is probably a touch unfair, but the Tidal team did behave with a terrific air of self-importance, seemingly not even looking past their own back-catalogues and revenue streams to mention how it could actually benefit smaller artists or even what the music loving public get out of it.

It could be that Tidal is the next stage of evolution for digital music streaming but without any more details of its perks that seems unlikely. A substantial 50% price cut for Tidal subscriptions has at least been announced but the streaming service is going to have roll out a lot more good stuff to wash away that first wave of negativity. With app downloads already falling and Kanye West deleting his endorsing tweets, you suspect Jay Z may have taken on more than he bargained for.