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Out-of-Touch Jay Z and the Tidal Music Streaming Backlash

Updated on April 2, 2015
Jay Z appears out-of-touch when promoting Tidal despite coming from a low income background himself
Jay Z appears out-of-touch when promoting Tidal despite coming from a low income background himself

Rapper Jay Z launched a music streaming service called Tidal in an attempt to compete with Spotify. The service offers a $20 a month Hi-Fi option and $10 for the regular service. Spotify charges $10 for their Premium option ($5 for college students) but also offers a free option that's ad supported. The free version plays ads and comes with restrictions on mobile devices.

It's this free option that's led to controversy. Spotify is often criticized for paying too little despite the fact that the company pays out 70% of earnings to artists and labels. Jay Z wants to change that and insists Tidal will pay artists fairly. He claims not offering a free option will lead to higher payouts per stream. In other words, Jay Z wants to force people to pay for music by not offering a free alternative.

The launch of Tidal led to a huge amount of backlash. The biggest mistake was comparing the creation of the service to a social justice movement. Jay Z's wife Beyonce said:

"Every great movement started with a group of people being able to get together and really just make a stand.”

Time Magazine jokingly responded:

"From Seneca Falls, to Selma, to Stonewall, to Los Angeles, where a bunch of celebrities demanded that their fans give them more money—this country has such a rich history of protest movements."

Marina from the group Marina and the Diamonds took issue with the Twitter hashtag #TidalforALL:

"Also, the hashtag #TidalforALL? As if everyone in the world will be getting Tidal for free on our new government music program. Lol"

Spotify has 60 million global users, including 15 million who pay for a subscription. Subscribers pay $10 a month for advertisement free listening. Users can listen to music on or offline. The service offers about 30 million songs. 10 million streams on Spotify would pay roughly $70,000 to labels and artists.

An Interesting Overview of Tidal and Music Streaming

And Jay Z didn't help with out-of-touch comments like this:

People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water. You can drink water free out of the tap, and it’s good water. But they’re OK paying for it. It’s just the mind-set right now.

There's no such thing as free water (is Jay Z unfamiliar with water bills?) and many lower income people who buy water do so because the water supply in their area isn't good. I used to live in an area where brown water would often come out of the tap. A bunch of 1 percenters demanding more money from people who often work long hours but still struggle to make ends meet didn't look good. Of course, there are people who pay for bottled water who don't really need it. And that's obviously the point he was trying to make. But it was a terrible example.

Should People Pay for Music?

Yes they should if they want high quality music. Piracy has made record labels increasingly fearful about innovation and risk taking. Even in genres like classical music labels are so worried about not making a return on their investments that they heavily control what artists can do. Young artists often don't have the kinds of artistic freedom their predecessors enjoyed. They're forced to follow trends because labels want to play it safe. You often get what you pay for. And if you want to pay nothing for music, you can't complain if it isn't high quality or if everything on the radio sounds the same.

Still many people can't pay much for music. I grew up in a poor family. I did buy CDs but many of my albums were copies given to me by kids at school. In college, I mainly bought CDs from a store that sold used CDs. The artists and labels made nothing from those purchases. Now I can afford to pay for music and I do. I subscribe to Spotify Premium as well as buying albums I want on CD.

This is a big upside of Spotify's free tier. People who can't afford to buy music can stream it for free and the artists and labels still get paid thanks to ad revenue. Many people have given up piracy in favor of streaming for free on Spotify instead. The downside is that people who can afford to pay will often use the free tier as well. Jay Z is right that people should pay for music if they can afford it. But he seems to ignore the fact many people can't.

It's important to educate people on why paying for music is so important. And many people are starting to understand that stealing music is destroying artistry, putting people out of work and making it increasingly difficult for indie labels and artists to survive. Artists and labels will have no incentive to pay to make music if they can't get their investment back. Increasing numbers of people are willing to pay for music. Many Spotify subscribers move from the free to paying tiers.

Music piracy has been devastating to the music industry and made labels wary of innovation and experimentation
Music piracy has been devastating to the music industry and made labels wary of innovation and experimentation

And this is the big problem with Tidal. If you don't offer a free ad supported tier, many people will choose to download illegally instead. It's too easy to do. Tidal won't solve the piracy problem. And it may not solve the payout problem either. The lack of a free tier means fewer people will use Tidal. Since payouts are based on the number of streams for each song, fewer people streaming means fewer streams. Fewer streams means artists and record labels make less money.

However, a more expensive Hi-Fi option may turn out to be a great idea. Many people can easily afford $20 a month to subscribe to music. Getting more money from people who can afford to pay is something Spotify has never tried to do. If more people pay into streaming services, they'll have far more money to pay out to artists and labels. And hopefully we'll get better music in return.


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    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California


      Kanye is respected most for his production work. He's talented but his attitude is a turn-off. And a lot of people turned against him when he became a Kardashian.


      I pay for Spotify because I use it a lot. But it doesn't make sense for someone who doesn't listen to a lot of music to pay for it every month. A free option is ideal for people who aren't going to use the service very much. Jay Z isn't taking any of that into consideration.

    • macteacher profile image

      Wendy Golden 2 years ago from New York

      Great hub, it brought to my attention something I don't really think about very much, and maybe I should. I still like buying the songs I like from iTunes, so I'm not stuck with the whole album and then downloading everything to my iPod.

      I only use Spotify once in a while, so it's not cost effective for me to pay for the service. I do believe artists should get paid for their craft, but just how much people get paid for something is way out of proportion in this country. We'll pay millions for sports figures and mediocre music, but nurses, teachers, and even many doctors, are struggling financially.

      I'm a teacher, and I'm afraid I don't have a great opinion of pop and rap these days. I hear schoolchildren singing lyrics that are really inappropriate, because the artists want to make a quick buck rather than come up with some quality lyrics.

      It's just my opinion, and it certainly doesn't apply to every artist. There are some really good musicians producing music. So, when I run into something worth listening to a lot - I go back to iTunes and pay for it.

      Voted up, thought provoking hub. :-) And I think Jay Z should stay quiet. I think many of them should stick to music and keep the talking to a minimum. ;-)

    • profile image

      Stargrrl 2 years ago

      Over the years, I have lost respect for Kanye West. I find his arrogance a real turn off, and he had no right to complain about not winning any awards, nor was it his place to criticize people like Taylor Swift for beating out Beyonce. Even in his songs, the lyrics just suck. I liked Gold Digger, but that was then. Now he needs to shut up. And as for Jay Z, I agree with you that he is a business man now. His music is slightly better, and I'm talking about his 90's and early 2000s rap.

      I used to download illegally, but I got caught, so I buy off of iTunes. It's not expensive for me and I can listen to the music whenever and wherever I want.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California


      I agree about self-interest. The album becoming a thing of the past is a real possibility. If labels stop getting a return on their investments in albums they may just release singles and 3-5 song EPs instead. I think more people would pay to stream or buy if they realized something they value could go away.

      Having fans fund big label albums along the lines of Indiegogo is interesting. Considering that many fans will pay $300-500 for a meet and greet, I could see many contributing to the recording of an album to get autographed CDs or phone calls from famous artists. It probably wouldn't cover the full cost of recording or promoting an album but it is one way to encourage buying over streaming.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California


      So many artists are moving toward a poppier sound in their music, which is sad. I like pop and dance music. But when I listen to rock, or country, or folk, or jazz, I want it to sound like rock, country, folk and jazz. I don't need those genres to sound pop because I can get that from pop artists. I also agree about the overproduction. It can work well in EDM and club music but doesn't belong in most genres. Even pop doesn't really need it.

      I think of Jay-Z and Kanye as businessmen and not really artists. I've seen their music referred to as luxury rap, so that says a lot.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 2 years ago from back in the lab again

      When I was younger I listened to a lot of different subgenres of metal, much of that has become rather generic as well these days. Recently the band All that Remains, which years and years ago was one of my favorites, released a new album and it was just the most generic pop-metal autotuned garbage imaginable. Not even good as far as pop-metal is concerned.

      I agree that a lot of it is people don't want to take risks and I think another part of it is everything sounds so clean, digitized and perfect, even the vocals. A lot of older music is more raw and isn't overproduced and corporatized like today's stuff.

      It amazes me when people like Jay-Z and Kanye become so out of touch to reality and think the world owes them something for creating music, as if they were so innovative and so influential that we should all grovel at their feet.

    • profile image

      Ken 2 years ago

      People will pay for what they can get for free if you appeal to their self interest. I've donated to PBS, NPR and RadioLab even though I can get them for free. But they appeal to my self interests by telling me my favorite shows can only continue if they earn enough in donations. And it works. They've been around for years.

      Some indie artists are now getting their music funded through indiegogo. I've seen hundreds or thousands of people making donations so their favorite artists can make another album.

      If the labels had been willing to change and adjust they could've reached out to the consumer and told them we can only afford to put out music from your favorite artists if you support them. That would appeal to the self interest of fans. Or they could even have done something like indiegogo. They could have let people donate to the creation of an album in advance, sell the fact that the artist would have 100% control over the music and then send people the CD, concert tickets, merchandise and other perks based on the amount they were willing to donate when the album was finished. That way the labels wouldn't have to take the huge financial risk of funding albums themselves.

      Instead when the record labels saw their revenues falling they whined, oppressed their artists even more, and lowered the quality of their product. They refused to change their business model. They made it all about them and not about the consumer. And the consumer saw no reason to pay because they didn't see it as being in their self interest to do so.

      Jay Z is doing the same thing. He's making it about the artists but not the consumers. He hasn't given the consumer any good reasons as to why they should pay for streaming instead of getting it for free. He isn't appealing to the consumer's self interest.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California


      Alt rock has become very generic as well. A lot of music coming out of the big labels now is very safe partly because of piracy. Artists are often not allowed to take risks and even some big label artists are turning to crowd-sourcing to fund albums labels won't approve. So, I do sympathize with the situation. But Jay Z is more of a businessman than an artist now, so he's not the best person to make that case.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 2 years ago from back in the lab again

      Maybe if it was indie label guys barely making enough to get by and produce their music or even guys out of their garage unsigned to a label it'd be fair to demand a little bit more money, but effing Jay-Z, really?

      I admire musical artists but I have a hard time admiring these uber popular music stars in the same way, especially with how generic and horrible most recent rap and pop music has become. No one needs millions more dollars on top of their already millions of dollars.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California

      Dressage Husband,

      Their presentation was terrible. They had a bunch of rich superstars on stage trying to sell the service. Many people don't realize that a lot of ordinary people like songwriters, sound engineers, marketers, accountants, secretaries, etc. working in the music industry depend on music revenue to make their living and when you want it for free you put livelihoods at risk. If they had put the focus on ordinary employees at record labels or small independent artists, it would have been fine. Instead it was a bunch of multi-millionaires mimicking a social justice movement and it came across badly. The backlash was deserved.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      I think Jay Z has missed the point here and Tidal is unlikely to succeed the absence of a free option using ad revenue is a fatal flaw. He thinks people actually want the rich to get richer how very arrogant is that view?

      I am sorry as I was just like you and I do think fair reward is due, but he has made people feel it is just his way of getting even more for a talent that is probably being overpaid when compared to Nursing, say.