“Water is free. Music is $6 but no one wants to pay for music. You should drink free water from the tap – it’s a beautiful thing. And if you want to hear the most beautiful song, then support the artist,” —Jay Z
The last time I checked, most celebrities drink water from bottles with outrageously expensive labels on them like Perrier or Fuji, whereas most of their audience either buys bottled water or drinks tap water through a water filter that they, too, purchased. Perhaps this wasn’t the best analogy for Shawn Carter to make in regards to his new music streaming service, Tidal, but it highlights one of the most disconcerting sentiments that music consumers and many artists alike share: music shouldn’t have a price tag. Music, like water, is invaluable. Millions of people already pay for their music and if not directly, they pay for the internet that it streams from, or the electricity that it requires to be heard. Younger generations (mine included) lean more towards the digital acquisition of music as opposed to purchasing cds and cassettes as we had to in our younger days. Back then recording music on blank cassettes from the radio or burning music onto discs from a friend’s collection was typical – we got our music how we had to and we enjoyed the hell out of it. Quality – or the ‘beauty’ of the music – was tempered by the quality of the speakers it was projected from, not necessarily the medium from which the tunes were played. Simply playing the music for our own listening pleasure – as well as calling the radio station for songs to be played – was justified support for the artist.
Jay Z and his mighty band of celebrities and millionaires, however stagnated by the lack of receiving direct profit from the purchase of their music, have neglected to recall their own pasts of having a love of the art of music and knowledge that there is no sense in taxing a poor kid from Marcy projects (or any other project, for that matter) for money he doesn’t have. It seems that in their plea for compassion, they overlook the reality of the masses from whence they came – well maybe not Miley Cyrus, but certainly Beyonce and Alicia Keys. This obvious disconnect is disheartening and causes me to question societal and cultural awareness of Jay.
Traditionally, music artists have received the short end of the stick – harrowing tales of content rights issues, selfishly greedy managers, and thieving record companies have reached our ears at one point or another. Less spoken of is the revenue artists acquire through live performances, appearances, side projects, and other avenues that are normal parts of maintaining their lavish lifestyles – profits that exist outside of record sales. Don’t get me wrong – every human being has the right to formulate an idea, capitalize on it, and receive just payment for their ideas.
However – who is Jay Z really trying to help and what is he really trying to do to the way that the public receives their music?
Tidal, formerly Aspiro, was purchased by Jay Z just this year. One of its main selling points is that the platform provides cd-quality music at a cost. There is no free option save the 30-day trial for either the $9.99 premium version or the $19.99 ‘lossless high fidelity sound quality’ version. Both versions are free of advertisements and offer an offline feature that allows the user to download music and videos for connectionless playback. If anyone is wondering if the quality issue is actually substantiated – it apparently is. Clarity of vocals, instruments, and other meticulous elements held to standard by true musicians and audio aficionados are finer tuned and at your disposal at the $20-per-month rate. The deal sweetens with the ability to transfer Spotify, SoundCloud, iTunes, and myriad other services’ playlists into Tidal. Not to mention artists like Miley Cyrus and Jay Z have released content exclusive to Tidal along with the multitudes of artist interviews and similar content soon to come.
That’s great. That’s really great.
But is it really?
An article in The Week made a great point that revenue from individual tracks are often problematic at the record label level of music production because that’s where the record sales go first – a contracted situation that Tidal honestly can’t alleviate without making every single artist a stakeholder in the Tidal regime (I guess then we’ll see how much this is about money or about the music, right Mr. Carter?). Furthermore, releasing exclusive tracks and albums on Tidal affects music chart data – and ultimately the standings of an artist in the statistical side of things. Is that really worth it at the end of the day? Only the artists can answer that.
Personally, I commend Mr. Carter for making such a leap as a businessman and as an artist. However, I don’t think that he should penalize the masses and endorse the withholding of quality art for a dollar. Art is meant to be cherished and appreciated – it is expression. What good is it if it comes at a price? In the old days, artists were commissioned by the wealthy to produce art. They lived lavish, comfortable lifestyles and had the time and free conscience to produce deeply emotional, invaluable elements of human expression that survive today. What dedication does Mr. Carter have to the consumers and producers of auditory art in this day and age? Getting a call from Jay Z isn’t equitable to $20 a month being taken from people’s pockets for a service that doesn’t even have Backyard Band and Echo and the Bunnymen on its roster – artists who, among countless others, have been and are still providing quality art, creativity, and talent to the music community and deserve to be heard as well as compensated for making their music available beyond the confines of their souls.
Whether you subscribe to Tidal or not is obviously your decision – while having higher quality streaming music is a wonderful thing, consumers should be properly informed about the choices they’re making and not deprived of the bliss of what has always been and should be free.