Editorials

Kanye West and The Problem With Tidal

A sold out Yeezy Season 3 show in Madison Square Garden coupled with a frenetic Saturday Night Live performance made way for The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s seventh studio album that underwent numerous name changes and sparked a troubling Twitter confrontation. After a multi-year wait punctuated by headline-making moments of vulnerability and bravado, it would be hard for West to release a project that would commercially flop. Regardless of the music that comprised Pablo, which has thus far received positive reviews, legions of diehard fans would flock to their idol’s side to support his self-proclaimed genius.

West knows this. He is a creative, but at the end of the day, Kanye West is a businessman, and he has diversified his personal brand in ways that few of his contemporaries have been able to achieve. By building a mystique that’s equal parts relatable and incomprehensible, when West speaks, the world listens.

So, when Kanye West announced that his album was available only on Tidal, the Jay-Z owned streaming service in which West is an investor, people quickly responded to West’s pleas to subscribe.

The Tidal app skyrocketed to the top of the United States App Store charts, which West happily tweeted about.

In the past two months, Tidal has gone from a service tinged by financial failure to an exclusive way to access highly valued content from some of the world’s most acclaimed artists – so far, all of whom are equity investors in the company. Rihanna’s long delayed ANTI finally streamed on Tidal in January, and went platinum within the week. Beyonce surprised fans by premiering “Formation” through the service before performing it at the Super Bowl 50. Now, Kanye West has taken Tidal a step further, getting fans who were unimpressed by the company’s launch less than one year ago to sign up and sing the praises of its lossless audio quality. First touted as a way to provide fairer payment to both big and small artists and songwriters releasing music through the service, it’s appearing to become a system that protects and generates further wealth for its major investors.

Tidal has a one-month trial period for users, so those who have signed up to listen to Kanye West’s album may end up canceling their $9.99 or $19.99 monthly subscription before the bill date. However, it’s unlikely that every single new user will remember to cancel their payment, or perhaps they will actively choose to join the other 1m paying listeners – an added financial benefit for Kanye West, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and the rest of Tidal’s wealthy investors.

West made it clear that Tidal is being used to fund his own personal projects, and in a recent series of tweets, stated that although he is “personally rich,” he needs “access to more money in order to bring more beautiful ideas into the world.” He then indicated that private investors have reached out to finance these undisclosed ideas. But what about the money West is earning through his stake in Tidal, along with those aforementioned higher royalty payments?

If Tidal is a company that utilizes both streaming revenues and subscription fees to directly fund outside ventures launched by the artists that co-own the company, then shouldn’t Tidal users be regarded as investors as well? We don’t know the exact figures that each equity investor is making, or what Kanye West’s stake in the company is specifically, but one can assume that if you own a portion of the company that you use to exclusively release your music, you are making more profits than an artist streaming their music on large platforms such as Spotify. When those profits are going towards financing an idea, perhaps even a number of startups, then all those paying users are technically investing capital in a form of equity crowdfunding.

For Tidal to retain and continue growing its user base, a new level of transparency needs to be provided to the users from its partners and board of directors. If Tidal subscribers understood that they were investing in Kanye West, Beyoncé, or Rihanna’s next project, and were given a small portion of equity in the venture, my guess is that Tidal’s userbase would boom. However, when some of the world’s richest musicians act as if they aren’t using Tidal as a blatant source for diversifying and expanding their assets, then fans like myself won’t be riding the wave anytime soon.

Update: Kanye West posted a series of tweets on February 15th continuing to ask fans to subscribe to Tidal, claiming that his music would be available only through the service and indicating that GOOD Friday collaborations would be hosted there as well.

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