31 Mar 2015

Jay Z’s Tidal wave: the battle for streaming supremacy

Artists backing Jay Z’s launch of online music streaming service Tidal say they are launching a revolution in music – but not everyone is happy.

On Tuesday, rapper Jay Z unveiled an updated version of the Tidal music service, and announced “a commitment to a new direction for the music industry from both a creative and business perspective”. Jay Z bought Swedish tech company Aspiro in early 2015, one of whose services is music streaming site Tidal, in a deal worth £37.8m.

Industry analysts expect to see a service that will rival Spotify in the streaming of major music tracks. Spotify currently has 30 million tracks available on its service, with 15 million paying subscribers.


Tidal is positioning itself as the “first artist-owned” streaming service, and as a result the artist gets a greater share of the revenue from each stream.

Taylor Swift withdrew her catalogue of music from Spotify last year over royalty issues, with the Shake It Off singer suggesting to fans that music is art and should not be available for free.

According to Spotify’s business model, 70 per cent of total revenue created is paid out to the music’s rights holders. The Explained section of the company’s website says it pays “between 0.006 and 0.0084 US dollars” per stream on average, and Spotify has said it paid out more than $1bn (£676m) to the music industry last year.

Tidal is yet to confirm how much artists will make from each stream but, given their stake as owners, it is likely to be higher.

In contrast to Spotify, Tidal will not offer a free version of its service, something which has been credited for reducing online music piracy in recent years.

Artists using Tidal have also been encouraged to lobby their record label to strike exclusivity deals with the service in order to generate more interest, and streams, via Tidal – though this has been criticised for offering little to emerging artists in need of exposure and accessibility to fans.

‘High prices’

There also been some early confusion around the pricing of the firm’s high-quality “lossless” audio subscription, which will cost £19.99 a month – though some users of the app this morning were being quoted £14.99 a month for the service. Tidal has not yet responded to questions on the issue.

Tidal is co-owned and has been invested in by a host of wealthy musicians, including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Madonna and Rihanna. It says they want to “forever change music in history”.

However Tidal’s model has met fierce criticism online, with many voicing their frustration that the launch sounds like a campaign for social justice.