Tuesday, March 31, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Tidal: Why Is Everybody Hating On TIDAL?

There's much you can say about Tidal from its ham fisted presentation to it's ludicrous pricing strategy and poor reading of its target audience but what can't be said is that nobody saw an artist owned service like TIDAL coming or its necessity. 

Since some genius figured out how to make a dime off music, artists haven't had much control over how or where their music is sold as many artists, then and now, don't own their own music. This is because when signing with a label, artists maybe could negotiate keeping their publishing or image rights but would basically have fight tooth and nail to keep or get their masters as quite simply the music business is built on owning the master recording of a song.

This simple truth is why labels are not out of business despite the steep decline in music sales as they make an ungodly sum of money off licensing the music of their artists long after their career is over and often long after their artists have passed away. This is why if you wanted to use Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" for a film or ad,  you would have to pay Universal Records through the nose to do it

Labels work hard to maintain their recording rights despite copyright law being tipped heavily in their favor as an artist can only regain ownership of their masters after 35 years have passed. Legendary artists like Prince had to wait three decades to regain their masters with Prince being particularly lucky that he didn't have to go through an expensive and arduous legal fight with Warner Brothers (his label) to get it.

If artists not having any control over their music weren’t enough of a rallying call to unite then surely labels licensing their music to streaming services like Spotify for large sums of money (large sums of money artists don't get a cut of as they don't own their masters) definitely tipped the scales. Labels licensing the music of their artists for large sums of money wouldn't be so bad if streaming services, particularly Spotify, weren't so tightfisted when it came to paying artists. However, Spotify have no choice but to penny pinch when it comes to paying artists as they've coughed up billions in licensing fees collected by labels since their inception.

So what we're really seeing is Spotify taking a lot of flak from artists when they should turn their attention to their labels as Gizmodo's Mario Aguilar pointed out "It's not Spotify that's fucking over artists, it's record labels". Labels have realized that they're not in the music business anymore and are in the licensing and marketing business which puts Labels in a position to screw artists twice by securing a big buyer of licensed music content in music streaming services and through large licensing fees, limit streaming services' ability to pay artists properly.

Artists have sustained an ecosystem designed to screw them over for ages from advances that in practice worked like horrible loans with interest rates that a mob connected loan sharks would find excessive to 360 deals made when labels realized artists were making more on the road than on music sales and decided they wanted a cut.

Tidal is not the worse idea in the world but it's easy to understand the visceral hate it has received since Jay-z and a bevy of music heavyweights held a rather self-congratulatory press conference. However it isn't necessarily the smartest move as music streaming is a rather competitive market and most music streaming services don't make money, just ask Spotify.

It was already going to be difficult to make money in the music streaming market but the truly barmy decision to price Tidal at $20 a month when their target audience can watch movies, TV shows, and listen to the music they love for less and, in many cases, for free is incredibly ill advised. If Twitter reaction is any gauge of how a product or service is received, the noble task of restoring the value of music is going to damn near impossible as just about everybody sees Tidal for the money move that it is.

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