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Will Jay Z lead artists into a powerful new digital era?

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Apr 7, 2015 - 8:40:17 PM

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(FinalCall.com) - Jay Z rarely uses social media so when he used his Twitter account to communicate with his 3.1 million followers, people kind of knew something was brewing.

It was seen as a major move when the Hip Hop artist turned mogul stood on stage March 30 with music industry heavyweights to announce the formation of the majority artist-owned global streaming music service Tidal.

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Jay Z
“This is the beginning of a whole new era,” said  Alicia Keys, the Grammy Award-winning artist, who is also one of Tidal’s co-owners. Each of  Tidal’s 16 superstar co-owners reportedly received 3 percent of the company as a gift from Jay Z, according to Billboard Magazine.

In mid-March, it was announced that Jay Z through Project Panther Bidco, Ltd. which is controlled by S. Carter Enterprises, LLC, acquired the Norwegian music streaming company Aspiro for a reported $56.2 million. Although his efforts were initially opposed and for a time delayed by some of Aspiro’s shareholders, the huge fanfare announcing the rebranding of the company as Tidal appears to have been very successful and surely in his view, worth the wait. Since news broke, the subject has dominated all music and entertainment news magazines and websites.

According to company representatives, Tidal is “the first high fidelity, lossless music streaming service.” Boasting of 25 million available HiFi tracks and 75,000 HD music videos, the service also promises to provide expert commentary contributed by industry leaders and journalists. It is available across iOS and Android devices, as well as all internet web browsers.

Roc Nation Chief Investment Officer and Tidal Senior Executive Vania Schlogel in her remarks indicated Tidal is a partnership with Sprint, but was light on details. An April 2 statement from Sprint clarified things a bit, but not much.

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(L-R) Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce attend the Tidal launch event #TIDALforALL at Skylight at Moynihan Station on March 30 in New York City.

“Sprint confirms that it is in discussions with Tidal, the new music streaming platform launched earlier this week, to determine how to best make the service available to its customers. It further clarifies that it has not made an investment in Tidal. We are working together in partnership for the vision of the common cause of reestablishing the value of music, it is NOT a financial investment or exclusive partnership,” said the statement posted on their website.

It is clear that although some music fans have greeted Tidal with great anticipation, there are still many questions being asked by industry insiders.

The company’s star-power is unmatched.

Jay Z’s wife, Beyoncé, Daft Punk, J. Cole, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher were just some of the co-owners that signed a declaration of intent which read in part: “We want our mission with Tidal to spark conversation and lay a foundation for tomorrow’s burgeoning stars. Our movement is being led by a few who are inviting all to band together for a common cause, a movement to change the status quo.”

Opinions vary and the newlyformed company faces daunting challenges in an increasingly congested music-streaming market.

Some music fans have complained it is a situation where already wealthy, artists and entertainers are becoming richer. Others have complained about the monthly subscription fee structure, which currently stands at $9.99 (Premium) and $19.99 (HiFi). Others lauded the move touting the benefits of increased quality sound, increased innovation as well as the benefits for consumers with added competition in the music-streaming realm.

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Kanye West
Artists have long battled record companies for creative freedom, ownership rights and revenue for their musical creations. Many remember when Prince appeared in public with the word “Slave” written across his face, to protest what he believed was unfair treatment by his label at the time, Warner Bros. Michael Jackson famously condemned Tommy Mottola, who at the time was the head of Sony Music, and called him “A Devil.”

During a recent Q & A session at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University and published by The Fader, Jay Z said Tidal’s payout structure for artists is just one of the things that could alter the future musical landscape.

“If just the presence of Tidal causes other companies to have better pay structure, or to pay more attention to it moving forward, then we’ve been successful in one way,” said Jay Z.  “The analytics that we’re seeing tell us that streaming is the next thing, and downloads are going down. I feel like with the history of this platform, from vinyl to where we are now, it just seems like the next logical step. Before you had a CD, you put it in, you had the download, they eliminated the CD so just downloads. Now you’re going to eliminate the download and you just play it. So it just seems like the next logical step in what’s going to happen,” he added.

Attorney L. Londell McMillan, publisher of The Source Magazine left no doubt about how he saw the move. “Shout out to #TIDAL. This accomplished what I always wanted Prince to do back in the day!” he Tweeted.

Black Rob, who made his debut in the late 90s on the legendary label Bad Boy Records, has seen music go through several stages in how it is delivered to the people. His first album was released before digital downloads and streaming. His next album, “Genuine Article” which is his fourth, due out later this month, is set to rely heavily on digital downloads to achieve success. From what he has heard of Tidal, he thinks it is a good move for artists like him, concerned with their residuals.

“As far as I’m concerned that’s a good move. On my behalf, that’s good and I like that,” Black Rob said.

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Sol Messiah, founder and leader of the God Hop musical collective said it was very significant that Jay Z had every race, musical genre and all the power players represented. He sees the formation of Tidal as a good thing and his distribution partners are finalizing details related to finalizing their connection with the company.

“I commend him for it and I think it is a great thing,” said Sol Messiah. “Of course as soon as a Black man does something they call it Illuminati—I thought that was kind of funny. So he’s got to be Illuminati because he did something for himself? And people don’t understand the impact. A Black man bought one of those services. He owns one of those services,” he added.

Sol Messiah also has a business relationship with Spotify and Pandora in which his headlining artist Sa-Roc and other artists have their music played through the streaming services.

“With Spotify and Pandora, you get pennies from it, literally, but at the same time, so many people find out about the artist because of the way that it’s structured, it doesn’t cost that much and you can listen to as much music as you want to,” said Sol Messiah. “Because people hear it, and promoters hear it and then they end up booking you which in turn, you get paid from that, which is much more than you would get paid from Pandora or Spotify,” he added.

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