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Tidal is a Cautionary Tale About Transparency (Opinion)

04/24/2015
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(Radio.com) Jeremy D. Larson writes: Major labels sleep better at night knowing that we are currently in peak social media. In an era of plummeting sales and hemorrhaging jobs, it's one of the few good things they have going for them. Rihanna's Instagram gives her agency, Kanye's Twitter gives us koans, and Katy Perry's Facebook page loaded with comments simply trying to get people to like their Katy Perry fan Facebook pages.

Since the rise of social media, pop stars have used it to become more accessible to their fans, which has become one of the best ways major label teams can sell music. From hashtag campaigns to the never-ending pop thinkpiece machine, a pop star's social cachet is the perfect sleight of hand gambit. It allows major labels to run a business behind a front-facing brand. There will be no cries of 'sellout" when there is already a confluence of corporate culture and selfies--marketing plans and emojis--that proliferate our feeds every day. It is all one big torrent of interaction, and most fans think the pop stars are in complete control.

Except when you put everyone's face on stage at once and you see how absurd that idea is. The now infamous Tidal Press Conference was this wacky stunt a few weeks ago where a cabal of the biggest artists in the world were trotted on stage to stand there and performatively sign a Declaration of Real Artistry or some such and tout a new streaming service as the "future of music." Jason Aldean represented country, Arcade Fire laughably represented "indie," Madonna represented the days of pop's past, Daft Punk represented robots, everyone was there, like a musical Cobb salad. It had all the huckster salesmanship of a CES keynote address and the pried-open smiles of a red carpet step-and-repeat.

Now, Tidal is off to a pretty bad start. Its debut in the Apple Store has bottomed out, its CEO was ousted--just about every avenue where Tidal should be succeeding, it is not. The next rumored move is for Tidal to exclusively release a joint Jay Z/Beyonce album. Jay Z's done this before, and all anyone has to say is good luck with all that.

I don't blame the press conference for this anemic start. There's no direct correlation between a warren of ultra recognizable music brands on stage and a poorly thought-out business plan (though they are indeed intertwined). I also don't see 'The Illuminati" on stage; in fact it is really anything but. For Jay Z, it was a numbers game: If each one of these artists had the support of their millions of fans on social media, then that would equate to a good percentage of click-through traffic. It's the same idea of celebrity and pop star journalism. It's direct marketing in the form of live-stream PR blast.

Because of that, the hubris of Tidal's press conference was, in part, a key into the background machinations of all of these stars. For Jay Z to assemble the people he did, it wasn't just one individual musician vying for the artist in the unprofitable world of streaming. The aim of the conference wasn't to try to convince other artists that Tidal was viable way to make a living selling music in this terrifying streaming climate. It was an impersonal business blitzkrieg, the kind of event that traded the face of the celebrity but in reality, when seen as a whole, relies on the business behind it. That day, an automaton of pop stars as businessmen and women lumbered to life to sell you a product. Read more here.

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Copyright Radio.com/CBS Local - Excerpted here with permission.

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