7 of the 15 artists with an ownership stake in Jay Z’s troubled Tidal streaming music service may have their music pulled from it as a result of Jay Z failing to reach a music licencing agreement with Sony, which owns many of the streaming rights to the musicians in question.
Alicia Keys, Daft Punk, Jack White, Calvin Harris, J Cole, Usher have all released albums under one of Sony’s labels, while even Jay’s own wife Beyonce could see her music vanish from her husband’s attempt at a challenger to digital music giants like Spotify and Apple.
According to an interesting and well-reported story by Bloomberg, Jay Z was apparently counting on an investment deal with Sprint to cover these costs, although Sprint has, well, sprinted to set the record straight by noting that its deal with Tidal is not “a financial investment or exclusive partnership.”
Since the 7 artists who may have music pulled stood on stage with Jay Z when he first unveiled the service back in March, this would be another embarrassing setback for Tidal. The service claims to have 900,000 current users, but it is expected that a large number signed up for a free trial and will quit when they have to start paying.
As a means of comparison, three-quarters of Spotify’s 60 million current users are non-paying free users.
Tidal’s story is fascinating to follow for a couple of different reasons.
Firstly, there’s the irony that Jay’s wife Beyonce could have music pulled from the service, having proved such a massive boon for Apple’s competing iTunes service. Beyonce’s surprise BEYONCÉ album was released in late 2013 and went platinum within a week — becoming the fastest-selling album in the history of iTunes.
In the wake of that album, Apple has reportedly pushed for more artist exclusives as a way of re-creating the “Beyonce effect.” Those exclusives are reported to be a big part of the upcoming Beats Music relaunch rumored to be taking place at WWDC.
More crucially, though, is the fact that Jay Z’s Tidal service has demonstrated just how challenging it is to launch a streaming music service to compete with the established likes of Spotify.
Apple likely won’t make some of Jay’s more rookie errors (when your main selling point is making millionaires richer by offering a higher royalty rate, you know you’re onto a loser!), and it certainly has a lot more disposable cash to sink into a break-even or money-losing project early on.
But as happened before the launch of the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch — when Apple was able to learn from the failures of other tech companies which came before it — Jay Z right now seems to be staging a seminar about what not to do.
Even if part of me would enjoy a Tim Cook freestyle rap taking aim at Cupertino’s enemies.