In a world where cultural cachet is judged by twitter followers, professional marketers throw around words like "influencer" often with no idea what it actually means, bet against Jay Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, Calvin Harris and the rest of the TIDAL crew at your own peril.
When Jay, Bey , YE, Madonna, and 12 other international music luminaries walked onto a New York stage last week to announce TIDAL, their new artist owned high definition music streaming service, the internet outrage machine kicked into high gear.
TIDAL is a rip-off , TIDAL will ruin music as we know it for the innocent fan, TIDAL tweeted a sexist joke in 2010, etc...
The largest gripe for fans and music bloggers alike it seems, is that these 16 artists have more money than Lucious Lyon, so why do they need more?
This complaint isn't wrong as much as it misses the point.
Regardless of what you think about these artists personally, or whether this will give you even one second thought about cancelling that Spotify membership, TIDAL is about something larger than music streaming. It's really about something larger than music.
TIDAL is about content creators fighting back against a system that says thanks for your work, now accept the financial rules that we've put into place.
When Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffith teamed up to create United Artists in 1919 as a way of fighting the restrictive film studio system, they were also heavily criticized. But 90 years ago, the consumption habits of regular Americans are incomparable to today. If you wanted to listen to a Duke Ellington record, you had to buy it. If you wanted to read the news of the day, you had to buy a newspaper.
As far as TIDAL, is concerned, on a technical level, it's about not accepting a system where artists make $.007 per stream, but the dollars and cents seem secondary to the larger message.
Jack White should be no more castigated for trying to profit off his music, then a lawyer should be for billing a client $1,500 an hour.
Much of the collapse of the journalism industry stemmed initially from an unwillingness to do what these artists are doing right now. A hesitation to put a price tag on their work., to challenge the sensitive sensibilities of 21st Century consumers, who are used to getting whatever they want, whenever they want, usually at no cost.
By recognizing the cultural power they have, and harnessing that into a reward for the time they've spent on their music, these artists are setting an example for future generations of artists. Beyonce can't sneeze without three "think pieces" being written about it, why should she not be able to profit off of the streaming of her own music?
What's more admirable in my eyes at least, is that these artists are putting their skin in the game at all. These 16 have already won the music game. Jay could have continued taking over the sports world, Kanye could have turned his attention strictly to fashion, Daft Punk could have started an advertising juggernaut.
While this cut-out-the-middleman strategy that TIDAL is chasing is being doubted now, recent precedent should tell you, they're not as far off as you may think.
Louis CK got sick of dealing with network drama with his comedy specials, decided to throw one of his specials up online for 5 bucks a pop, and made $1 million in 12 days.
Zach Braff wanted to direct "Wish I was Here," it wasn't happening in the studio system, so he threw a request up on Kickstarter and voila, the movie got made.
In every metric besides sales, musicians are bigger and more influential than ever. They dominate YouTube without really trying, innocuous comments they make turn into national arguments, tech companies look to them as investors just for the free publicity. It's almost hard to believe a service like TIDAL, owned and operated by the artists, has taken this long to come.
This weekend thousands of people from all over the world are traveling to the magical California Coachella desert for one reason. They aren't paying $500 a ticket for the Ferris Wheel Instagrams or $1200 on airfare for the hazy Snaps. It's the music.
When the leading artists of our generation speak up about politics or fashion, I can understand the eye rolling and skepticism. When they speak up about music, we should listen.