If you were waiting for details of technical specifications from Jay Z’s big Tidal reveal in New York tonight, you’d have left disappointed.
However, if you wanted to see 16 of the world’s biggest artists unveiled in person as the new “owners” of a digital music service, it would have been right up your street.
So long as you weren’t hoping they’d say too much.
After a brief introduction, probably the most glamorous Board Of Directors in the history of Boards Of Directors stepped out from the shadows and onto the stage.
In order, they were: Alicia Keys, Arcade Fire (Win Butler and Régine Chassagne), Beyonce, Calvin Harris (on Skype), Chris Martin (on Skype), Daft Punk, DeadMau5, Jack White, Jason Aldean, J Cole, Jay Z, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher.
These 16 artists then signed a declaration – of what, exactly, was never made clear – in front of a whooping audience.
And then, well, they left again.
That, aside from a few words from Alicia Keys about the value of music, was pretty much that.
What was more interesting from an industry standpoint was a short video played as the megastars went on their merry way.
It showed the performers convening at a secret location earlier in the year, where they discussed the importance of an artist-owned distribution platform and their belief in the selling power of Tidal’s high-def audio.
Below, you’ll find some of the choicest quotes from the video – a version of which you can watch at the bottom of this story.
(Look out for particularly scornful zingers aimed at the tech industry from Daft Punk and Madonna, and an excited reference to United Artists – the US film studio founded in 1919 by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford – from Jack White.)
- Calvin Harris: “In 2015, we’re making music to the highest level. It sounds more amazing than ever before, in my opinion. And then we’re listening to it on this platform where it’s compressed. I try and make music to the highest quality and that’s why [Tidal] stood out. You tell people what they’re getting and they’re going to hear the difference.”
- Jack White: “We can really educate people as to what digital quality they’re actually hearing. The average person on the street has no idea… When they did United Artist films back then, people were going to theatres saying: ‘Now we’re going to see what the artists wanted – what Chaplin wanted. Now the artists are in control.’ That’s what this has to be. People have to go to this site and see: ‘Oh, the artists run this.'”
- Kanye West: “When we put our heads together, combining all of our resources and owning our oil, giving people a higher level of product from a production and visual standpoint… I just thought about how crazy this is – the beginning of the new world.”
- Alicia Keys: “This is a game-changer for real. This is for the people by the people, you know?”
- Beyonce: “Every great movement started with a group of people able to get together and really just make a stand… If the fans can see this is from us, that’s so important… You put this many talented and creative minds together… we’re sharing our concerns over things we want to change. We really do have an opportunity to change the way we all experience art.”
- Daft Punk: “Look at the Seventies – the artists were the icons. Now the iconic elements are tech companies that think the artists are products. The artists are not products. If we can come together and really emphasise that, it becomes crazy – [we become] The Avengers of music!”
- Jay Z: “Everyone here is that term – icons. But at one point, we were all in love with music. You can’t make it to what we’ve accomplished without having that love of music. It’s one of the things that sets us aside from someone that’s a tech company selling advertising or selling hardware. Right now they’re writing the story for us. We need to write the story for ourselves… This is really musicians making music. It’s about music and there’s no endgame.”
- Madonna: “It’s a cliche but it’s about putting art back into the forefront… It’s about bringing humanity back to artists. Not technology, art. Human, art. They’re the carrier, we’re the artists. Somehow, things shifted and we went into the background. Now [art] has to come forward.”
- Jay Z: “I spoke to a few people outside of the industry and everyone was like: “What took so long?!’ This thing was what everyone wanted – and everyone feared. If these artists can sit in a room together, the game changes forever. And it happened today.”
According to Billboard, Jay Z has given each of his 15 fellow artist owners 3% equity in the relaunched Tidal, in exchange for a pledge that they’ll bring exclusive material to the platform in future.
The remaining equity in the company is owned by Jay Z, another investor and the record labels.
It will be interesting to see how these artist exclusives play out. Most mainstream artists have signed record contracts with labels who may not be best pleased by attempts to scupper, say, an agreed exclusive launch window with Apple.
And if streaming is a numbers game, Jay Z – whose €50 Euro takeover of Tidal parent Aspiro was finalised yesterday morning – definitely has his work cut out.
Spotify currently boasts 15m paying subscribers and 60m total users, while Apple – expected to launch its streaming service in June – owns the credit card details of more than 500m customers.
By contrast Tidal currently only has half a million paying subscribers around the world, with almost 400,000 of them coming via telco partnerships.
As for Tidal’s high-end audio tier, just 17,000 people subscribed as of January – although following its recent rebrand, we can also add the 24,000 who paid for WiMP’s HD subscription to that tally.
Jay Z will be hoping that, when you’ve got megastar after megastar queuing up to back you, those numbers clock up rather quickly.
Music Business Worldwide