Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Two Frenchmen adorned in glitzy robot costumes, a Canadian sporting a massive mouse head and a washed-up American sex goddess take the stage for a press conference announcing a new artist-owned, high-fidelity music streaming service. R&B star Alicia Keys manages to trump them all – Daft Punk, Deadmau5 and Madonna – in terms of sheer ridiculousness and unintentional humor while not wearing a disguise of any kind.
Oh, wait. This isn’t a joke. This actually happened last week.
Keys invoked the ghosts of Hendrix and Nietzsche while describing the unveiling of Tidal as a moment that could change music history and a demonstration of artists working together to achieve something massive. Tidal, in essence, is Jay-Z’s $56 million bet that music consumers will pay for higher quality audio, videos and editorial content under the guise it is being delivered by the world’s biggest artists. A select group of hip-hop, R&B, rock and country royalty joined Jay-Z and Keys on-stage to place their John Hancock on a document of some kind for some reason that would lead you to believe they were signing an oath to end world hunger, stamp out bigotry toward gay people in Indiana and/or refute accusations they were all Illuminati.
All this jabbering, strutting around like peacocks and mean mugging – I see you, Kanye – had no discernible connection to music. The millionaires present circled the wagons in the name of capitalism. Tidal is not about preserving music, as Keys assured a partisan crowd. It’s about musicians with names both your grandma and 8-year-old niece or nephew recognize cutting a larger slice of the subscription and advertising pie for themselves. Good luck to the up-and-coming artists who are getting shafted while Spotify and other streaming services make mountains of cash off their work. They will need to look elsewhere for a savior.
Tidal is not a movement. This is not Ferguson nor is it Occupy. This is some Emperor’s New Clothes bullshit passed off as art. It’s also a doomed venture.
Here’s why Tidal will fail: There is no cultural cache in paying for music. I can’t wear songs on my ears and have people go, Damn, that person has money and great taste. Even though Beats headphones are a rip-off for the price, everyone around you sees that circled B logo and knows you had a bit of extra cash lying around. That appeals to our culture of disposable materialism and insatiable narcissism. Not so with Tidal. The only way I see Tidal succeeding is the presence of all these names preying on people’s gullibility. The X factor in all this: How comprehensive will Tidal’s music offerings be and will the artists on-stage for the press conference make their work exclusive to Tidal?
Any way you slice it the math does not add up. I have friends with Spotify premium accounts. I doubt they’re going to start paying $10 extra per month for higher sound quality. If I am paying zero dollars for music I torrent I will not suddenly pay $20 per month for a subscription to hear it as the artists intended. I’ve been known to “borrow” music, to the point where my friends at Time Warner Cable just sent me a “fifth copyright warning” for allegedly sharing copyrighted material over my Internet connection. If TWC officials are reading this I deny these allegations. I have accessed music in ways Jesus didn’t speak of, sure, but my heart was always pure.
I wish I could say the same thing for Jay-Z, Keys and all their superfriends pimping out Tidal to the music-loving masses. Alas, the heart does not pump dollar bills.