For the first time I find myself in the unfamiliar position of agreeing with Kanye West. In a recent series of tweets the Grammy winning artist and fashion designer expressed frustration with the ongoing streaming music wars, particularly between Apple Music and the company he is invested in, TIDAL.
Kanye’s rant began with the simple declaration that “This Tidal Apple beef is fucking up the music game. I need Tim Cook, Jay Z, Dez, Jimmy, Larry me and Drake Scooter on the phone or in a room this week,” referring to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Jimmy Iovine, Apple Music’s Larry Jackson and presumably Scooter Braun, Drake and Jay Z.
Kanye then pivoted to chastise the heads of the streaming services for creating this log jam in music consumption where fans are forced to choose between a particular service in order to hear their favorite artist.
“Fuck all this dick swinging contest. We all gon be dead in 100 Years. Let the kids have the music.”
Then he closed with the coupe de gras, telling Apple to buy out TIDAL and focus on other things, like maybe making their interface more user friendly.
“Apple give Jay his check for Tidal now and stop trying to act like you Steve.”
It’s a curious about-face considering that TIDAL’s co-signers stood on the principle of it being a pro-artist stance against years of label exploitation of musicians. But in recent weeks rumors have swarmed that Jay Z and his fellow investors have been looking to sell TIDAL, despite its strong subscriber growth, because the initial membership was overstated and even with 3 Million subscribers (half of them paid), it pales in comparison to Spotify’s 30 Million and Apple Music’s 13 Million.
I’ve had many civil debates with peers I respect about my frustrations with streaming and music releases. I have been a paid Spotify subscriber for over two years but have not found a justification to pony up a separate fee for Apple and/or TIDAL, and I’m not alone. Album roll-outs in 2016 have been a mess for fans who aren’t even given the option of buying an album outright when it is released as a streaming exclusive. Kanye’s TLOP was available briefly on his own site before being relegated to TIDAL only, and weeks later being available on Apple Music and Spotify. And let’s not even get into his constant tinkering with it. Impatient consumers downloaded it illegally as tech savvy fans are prone to do. A similar rebellion happened with Chance The Rappers Coloring Book, which was an Apple Music streaming exclusive, making links to the album .ZIP file the hottest item in Twitter DMs since the 50% off Polo codes.
Artists have a right to distribute their music in whichever way they see fit, but if the system is creating a bottle neck for consumers it needs to be fixed. Streaming is not the devil but it’s being given a bad reputation because of larger companies still behaving like record labels jockeying for exclusivity. No, I cannot buy Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuits at Bone Fish Grill but even they got smart and made the mix available to purchase at Target and Walmart. Sometimes I just want biscuits dammit and don’t want to pay a flat fee to eat your overpriced beer battered experiments to get it. If I’m a fan of rapper X or singer Y I should have as many ways to consume their music as possible on as many platforms as possible. In time the market will decide they don’t want it in 8-Track tape, mini-Disc, or .m4A, but leaping to streaming only is cutting off your nose to spite your face.
If artists want to create a music distribution entity that is more fair and equitable to their work, I’m all for it. TIDAL was a good start but was maybe not the ideal set-up. Few first attempts are. While I won’t push for them “selling out” to Apple I agree that we need to “get the music to the kids” because as history has told us, the kids are going to get it one way or another. With more than a dozen albums reaching platinum sales and six albums achieving double-platinum sales in 2016 already, it’s clear the fans want the music and will pay for it. Just make it easier to take their money. Isn’t that why you’re in the music business?