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Opinion: Jay Z throws rich musicians a pity party with Tidal venture

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Kanye West (right) talks during a Tidal launch meeting. Credit: Screenshot of Tidal advertisement

Kanye West (right) talks during a Tidal launch meeting.
Credit: Screenshot of Tidal advertisement

Never have I felt less sorry for a group of people.

Unfortunately, though, a bit of empathy for people like Beyoncé, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Kanye West, Madonna, Jack White, Jason Aldean and J. Cole is the main selling point for Tidal — a new music streaming service that Jay Z bought as part of a $56 million purchase of tech company Aspiro.

Tidal has differentiated itself from Spotify, arguably its closest competitor in music streaming, by offering high quality sound, music videos, and editorial content.

The most notable difference is in the price: Tidal asks its users to cough up $9.99 per month if they want their songs to sound good, and $19.99 per month if they want their songs to sound great. Spotify is free, with the option of paying $9.99 per month, $4.99 for students, to listen ad-free.

Tidal’s underlying attitude of “Why listen to quality music for free on Spotify when you can pay for it on Tidal?” is counterintuitive. It shouldn’t be, though, if you are an ethical individual, according to Jay Z and his band of revolutionaries.

After all, Tidal has been launched, Jay Z says, “to get everyone to respect music again, to recognize its value.”

We weren’t doing that already, you see, because respect actually means money.

There has been much debate over the past couple of years about the model of free music streaming, which currently generates more revenue than CD sales, according to Fortune magazine. However, it supposedly comes at a cost to artists and their companies because of low royalties paid every time an artist’s song is played. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, The Beatles, AC/DC and The Black Keys have boycotted Spotify — their music is not available to stream on the app — over unfair compensation.

More famously, though, pop singer Taylor Swift pulled her entire catalog from Spotify in November. In a July op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Swift wrote, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Cutting ties with Spotify seemed like a noble battle cry, but it could also have been a convenient guise to drive up sales of her latest album “1989.” Not surprisingly, her catalog, minus “1989,” is available on Tidal.

It is quite difficult to see past the money angle in the idea behind Tidal.

One of the advertisements for the new service was footage of a luxurious, almost glutenous event that gathered all the hottest artists and more for a choreographed signing of an unknown declaration. Kanye West said Tidal is “the beginning of the new world”; another artist called it “a historical day.” The atmosphere is pompous, as if they just settled the discord.

If anything, though, they’ve declared war on fans.

These artists are fighting their listeners, finding the behavior of Spotify users — a legal, commercial service — and other streaming sites as unethical and inhumane, forgetting that it’s the fans that make these artists famous.

Free or low-cost music streaming is where the market is headed, and this will likely create monetary losses throughout the music industry. However, it is more productive to figure out how to adapt to it than fight a catch-22 — you can take the losses from music streaming, or you can put up obstacles that drive away fans with money.

Music is art, and art is valuable — this is true. But art also needs to be accessible.

Tidal’s proposition, though, is all about royals getting their royalties.

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