While this won’t be everyone’s fight, this is the hill I’m willing to die on, so come at me. It’s only natural that the majority of music consumers will simply eat however they’re fed. The path of least resistance is always the most frequently traveled and I get that. I just feel too strongly for the art to allow business to get in the way of my ability to consume the music the way I want to in the long run. While it’s a great move for Jay himself (the business/man), I think he’s setting a dangerous precedent by going the exclusivity route with not only 4:44, but with his entire discography aside from a few exceptions (Streets Is Watching soundtrack, anyone?). Just think: when Hov speaks, they listen. It was Hov that deaded big-ass Mitchell & Ness jerseys. Hell, there was a time where Hov had people trading in 4.0 Range Rovers until they came up with the “30 to 40 grand” to cop the 4.6. If other artists begin following suit in great number and jump on the exclusivity bandwagon, that will put Tidal’s competitors into a position where as music fans looking to stream, we’ll either be choosing streaming services based on which artists they back or based on which ones we like best while missing out on certain artists’ work. This puts all of the control in the hands of streaming services and artists instead of with the consumers who support and create discussion about the music.
I’m a quality assurance engineer by day, so I just laughed at Tidal when it was released and I tested it out for a week. Among other shortcomings, for a service offering no free listening tier, it just didn’t make sense that there was no program to download (at the time, but there is one now) for desktop access/listening/organization/upload. The lossless playback selling point isn’t something most users care about, yet it was touted as the advantage it had over other services, in addition to the flimsy and tone-deaf “help these rich musicians stay as rich as they’re supposed to be” selling point, if you can call it that. Basically, Tidal was the emperor’s new clothes of streaming services – all the bluster and pomp, but no real benefit to users aside from “look who we have” and a very high end game of major artist keep-away as a big fuck-you to the other streaming services and indirectly, to fans. I’m not saying artists don’t have a legitimate beef with streaming services not paying them their just due – they might. Or maybe the times are just changing and artists need to realize they’re never going back to 1998 rap money unless maybe you happen to be one Shawn Corey, who’s pulling down bling era dollars via Sprint and Tidal (though who knows really, given Tidal’s penchant for fudging numbers in order to puff its chest out alongside Apple and Spotify, who are destroying them).
There’s no outcome here where the music consumer wins. Exclusive video content might be cute for a week or two, but at the end of the day, it’s the albums people want access to and it’s the albums that will stand the test of time to where our kids will be able to access music history through them. Limiting that access to one source limits availability and will continue to, quite simply. 4:44 had been illegally pirated just under a million times in the 3 days since its release. Though there’s no real way to tell, it seems like music fans who put their pirate hats away a long time ago due to the convenience of streaming had to hit the high seas again to get an album being kept from them. What this should tell Tidal is that it’s less convenient for music fans to adopt and pay for a new music streaming service than it is to download the album illegally, though I think most users would rather just be able to stream the album the way they’re most comfortable – and pay whatever their service of choice charges.
4:44 is an incredible album. Without giving a full review this early, I can say that the hype is justified. Unfortunately, Tidal is too limited a service to be worthy of exclusive rights to this album (or any other tbh). This is a case of Jay-Z being tone deaf about everything but the music. It’s short-sighted to be so concerned with making a splash now that you leave fans in the lurch simply because they like another streaming service better than yours.
It’s weird that people seem to be drawing a line with cable companies, but can’t see the similarities between cable companies’ control over access and the trajectory that streaming services might be on. We should be able to draw this line in the sand now, as intelligent consumers, before things get stupid. If streaming services want to gain a following, they should simply make a better service and come up with an agreement that works for the artists as well. Granted, no one will give Jay-Z what Jay-Z will give Jay-Z for streaming rights, but we’ll at least ensure that relevant discographies are available to the new generation of rap fans as we delve into this new(ish) frontier of streaming technology.
Be sure to check out my previous post here on Rap Dad about adding your music files to Spotify.