Tidal is a company that has faced constant criticism in the media. Since their launch, people have questioned their motives, called them a flop, and found every avenue they can to try to discredit the entire operation. The company, bought by Jay Z less than six months ago, and less than two months into launch is one of the most interesting companies in the competitive landscape of music today. Recently I had a chance to sit down with their Chief Investment officer, Vania Schlogel to ask how things have been, if the criticisms have been fair, and what Tidal has planned for its fans and naysayers moving forward.
Vania had been working on Tidal before it was even Tidal. For months she had meetings with Jay Z and the team to figure out strategy on whether even acquiring Tidal to get into the streaming industry was a good idea. They also worked on what the mission strategy would be if they did decide to acquire it. The basic idea during these meetings was to get a diagnosis of what was wrong with the music industry, and to see what they could do to help stem the tide.
They realized if the only way to make money on music was to have a Top 40 song on Billboard, or to be partnered with a corporate sponsor then fans would be losing out on lots of creativity. They knew not every song could be less than 4 minutes, some have content that will never make it to the radio, and others use words that will never make it commercially viable records. An example she gave from personal experience was when Frank Ocean released Channel Orange. Her favorite song was "Pyramids", but it was a 9 minute long song that just could never get the Top 40 radio play. And she's thankful he had the creativity and vision to make it, which is why she is so intent on helping creative a commercially viable place for artists who do not fit that Top 40 distribution model.
She said watching the media attack the company so quickly without really understanding what Tidal has been trying to do is frustrating. In particular, she said;
"So soon after launch people had already decided things like Tidal isn't about indie and emerging artists. The reality is that the mission statement around Tidal was investing in the future of music, and that includes the next generation or artists."
Within a month they had launched Tidal Rising, Tidal Discovery, and Tidal X. Tidal Rising and Discovery are both ways to help create a sustainable music ecosystem where artists who aren't signed can upload music to make a living. That has been the grander vision. Tidal X is in the middle of putting together shows for their Rising artists, and Tidal will be putting real marketing dollars down to make those shows happen. And they aren't doing those things because they want to sign them or own their masters. They are also developing mentorship programs for artists from the Rising program. They want to pair them with veterans who have been through everything to create sustainable careers for these up and coming artists.
Also, one of the most exciting things being worked on within Tidal has been the artist dashboard. This provides full analytics to artists around who is listening to their songs, where those people live, and anything else they would need to be closer to their fans. Unlike other tech platforms Tidal is not trying to own the relationship with the fans. Instead they are trying to bring the fans closer together with their artists. Even the founding artists have been extremely excited about being able to get these analytics, which Vania says has been weird to see because she feels it is something that should already be standard.
Another major misperception around Tidal has been their pricing. The $9.99 model is competitive with Spotify, and the $19.99 model is only there as an option. Many people these days are buying expensive hardware, and compressed files don't do justice to that equipment. That was the only reason the Hi-Fi option was offered to fans.
While the constant criticism has been a source of frustration, Vania also realizes that it is what comes with the territory. They stepped into a very old industry, and are looking to do something fundamentally disruptive. As they say, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. Whenever you are put into a position where you want to disrupt then push back is bound to happen.
Before coming to Tidal, Vania was involved in private equity doing investing in music. She learned a lot there saying,
"For years I've sat in meetings as an investor where people say this is broken, and this needs to be fixed. But it's always should, should, should with very little action. The meetings were always about what we should do, but none about what we will do. With Tidal we were finally tackling those ideas, and it was fascinating because for years there has been talk about what should happen. And now all we could thing was 'wow, we really are going to try to create change.' And we will!"
Tidal is a very young company. It is difficult to say exactly where it will go. At this stage no one can say whether it will be a success or a failure. One thing that can be said though is that it still needs more time to mature before we really know. Another undeniable fact is they have the right people behind the wheel trying to steer the company in the right direction. Individuals like Vania Schlogel prove this isn't another fatuous celebrity company with no real substance. So give it some time and wait to see which way the tides turn.