Here. We go. Again. Quietly moving in circles over a void of mis-directed farce. In case you missed it; Jay-Z has bought the High Fidelity streaming service TIDAL, and seeks to use it to kill off Spotify in the name of ‘artist’s rights’. Those beautiful few regular readers will know that I have crossed this territory before when dealing with Taylor Swift. It got quite heated. It will likely get heated again. Personally, I stand firmly behind Spotify both as a user and an artist; I likely always will unless they do an eBay and seek profit over usability. As a user it is an obvious benefit to my life; I can discover and listen to artists that I would never have found any other way (unless I had bottomless pockets to pay for all the gigs and all the albums). There are all manner of independent and regionally distinct groups I’ve discovered that the old-school Anglospheric bias would have kept from me. How would I have discovered Västerbron or Hanne Kolstø if I hadn’t subscribed to the ‘New Singles in the Nordics’ playlist? I simply wouldn’t have done. Though that said. I am just me and my listening habits are surely different from others; but the positivity on Twitter towards Spotify is surely telling.
I didn't make this, honest.
As an artist we get into slightly more complicated territory. Money, you see; all we want is money. Actually, I should probably qualify that a little; all we deserve is money. Creating music is (depending on the person) a time consuming activity fuelled by hope. Hope that once it’s all recorded and mastered and produced and promoted, someone will pay you for the pleasure. It’s a job after all, or at least we see it as a job. Spotify tends to diminish that particular hope as (I’m no doubt you are aware) it’s royalty share for each play is minimal. You work so hard and then only get about £2 for 2000 plays. It makes you feel angry and small. Well, it makes some people feel angry and small. From my experience, I’m just glad that people are listening. I am in no position to start claiming obscene royalties. I know the worth of my art. I also don’t think I’m alone in this; many independent and smaller artists seem to like the format (again, judging by the Twitter reaction). However, larger artists lose out because they are tied by management and publishing contracts that take a percentage of all earnings. If Spotify gives a small revenue to begin with (which, it should be noted, is loosely equivalent to radio royalties), then it diminishes to almost nothing once the industry takes it’s share. It’s the same complicated, nuanced discussion that boils down to power slipping away from the traditional corporate channels and back into the hands of the producers.
So what is TIDAL? Basically it’s Spotify owned by Jay-Z and all the musical glitterati. It’s big idea is that it’s a music service owned and run by musicians so has the best interests of music at heart. A grand socialist experiment where power is returned to the people after being squandered by the nefarious business class. Hooray Music! We’ll be able to make money again! Of course, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Nothing will change. TIDAL will not be able to pay artists significantly more than Spotify unless Jay-Z and co. subsidise it with their own money. Streaming services are pretty poor investments; Spotify is in a lot of debt and Beats Music was treading water until Apple came along. This leads me, in all my cynical wisdom, to see TIDAL as nothing more than the old guard industry (of fat cats and chauvinism) trying to give itself a purpose. Jay-Z, Kanye, Madonna, Chris Martin, Rihanna, Daft Punk and anyone else that signed the TIDAL contract are big, big stars with big, big labels (and big, big overheads). They no longer have to struggle to the top. They no longer have to prove themselves. They are so protected and molly-coddled by the industry that a bottom line is all they can rely on to validate themselves. They become only as relevant as their bank account and the industry is aware of this. They are the pure-breeds; inbred and fickle. We are the adaptable mongrels. We will survive.
Possibly. Maybe. I am just getting very, very tired of these multi-millionaires putting words in my mouth. They have not had my experiences. They don’t have my dreams. They have this collective idea of what it is to be successful which always, always boils down to money. Whats worse is that they make us believe it’s what we want. Money gives you nice things but it also strips you of the responsibility of choice. If you can afford to do everything then do it all. As I mentioned last week, creating something should in itself be the reward. Leave a trail in this life and you’ll live forever. A tough philosophy to follow, I admit, and one that I hate sometimes; but my life is better for it. No amount of money could bring me this sense of accomplishment. So says the reconstructed hippy. Though that said; you’ve got to remember that we’re all doing this for different reasons. TIDAL will benefit some musicians (at the top, clawing to their gold like Smaug) just as Spotify and Soundcloud benefit others. Jay-Z should probably try and realise this.
So what do you think about streaming and royalties? Is Jay-Z on to something? Is Spotify a force for good or bad? Let me know in the comments below.