Is Jay Z Missing The Point?: Why Exactly Are People Criticizing Tidal?

May 19, 2015  |  

Jay Z gave a special concert over the weekend for Tidal subscribers and a small group of audience members at New York’s Terminal 5 and took a moment to freestyle on a variety of topics: from equal pay to Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin. He also used the opportunity to sound off on Spotify, YouTube, Apple and other companies that are involved in the music industry.

You can watch the whole video above, but here’s a snippet:

“Spotify’s $9 billion. They ain’t say s**t.

Lucy they got some splainin’ to do.

The only one they hatin’ on look the same as you.”

He ends with the line, “It’s politics as usual.”

From the beginning, Tidal has taken a lot of heat for applying a subscription cost — up to $20 per month — for access. The widely discussed press conference to launch the service took place on March 30 and since then, it has been plagued with negative chatter about subscriber numbers and how the service sets itself apart from the others.

Jay has tried to respond on Twitter and that largely fell flat. (We discussed the reasons why here.) His freestyle also introduces the idea that critics are coming after him because he’s Black.

Though Jay is aware of the talk, we’re not sure he’s hearing what exactly Tidal is being criticized for.

No doubt, racial bias across business and in the music industry exists. We’re not debating that point here. But a good chunk of the criticism about Tidal has come from fans who are saying in plain language what they value, what they’re willing to pay for and why Tidal’s business pitch isn’t selling them. The argument that fans should pay because other companies are taking money out of musicians’ overstuffed pockets is a hard pill to swallow. Moreover, you can’t propose that “YouTube is the culprit” here when you’ve making songs that tell everyone you’re “planking on a million.” Before Tidal, YouTube helped make you that million.

At this point, music lovers are used to gaining access to songs at no charge. From Pandora to Spotify, there are services that play your favorite songs for free. You pay with your time; you listen to a few 30-second ads here and there. A large part of the music business has turned to other things to make money, live events and merchandising, for example. Consumers are willing to pay for a concert ticket or a spot at a music festival (which can run into the hundreds of dollars), but they’re less likely to spend just to hear the song play on their computer.

So the biggest issue here is that Jay & Co. have taken something that has already been made available for $0 and tried to tell people they should pay more than that for it. Shortly after the “Feeling Myself” video was made available on Tidal, it became available other places on the web as well. And Tidal partner Jack White has broadcast his concerts at no charge on YouTube in the past. It would be like newspapers telling people they have to pay for stories after readers have gotten used to getting news for free online (which they tried). On its face, that just won’t fly.

Fans would be willing to pay if they were being offered a unique experience. But Tidal has yet to effectively make its value proposition. Why is it worth the money? What are my dollars supporting beside your lavish lifestyle? What have you done for me lately? The answers to those questions haven’t been forthcoming. That’s what the backlash is all about.

Tidal’s chief investment officer Vania Scholgel has acknowledged the public relations hiccups that have plagued the company. “Everything that has been done to date has come from a place of authenticity but we recognize that we’re not perfect at PR,” she said in an interview earlier this month. “The one thing I did not expect or foresee was that if we didn’t tell all the details, people would come in and speculate and tell the story for us.”

Jay Z is more than welcome to make a ton of cash on his music and business endeavors. But if you want people to hand over their dollars, they have to be given a good reason. Jay Z doesn’t need to rap about Spotify and the other competitors. He needs to spend more time talking about the virtues of Tidal.

h/t on the video to The Verge

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