On Wednesday Jay Z and Tidal executive Vania Schlogel visited NYU for a Q&A session. The event was held at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
Tidal is a streaming service created by artists. Is it necessarily for artists? Does this streaming service exclude the major labels in any way?
JAY Z: Well, we can’t exclude the major labels because they have contracts with the artists. But if you don’t have a contract as an independent artist, they you can do whatever you want and we would love to work with you.
Do you think there will ultimately only be one service that everyone uses?
JAY Z: The universe needs balance. There’s light and dark, there’s day and night. There’s young and old. There’s always an alternative in life. So I don’t believe there will be one service.
How do you think Tidal will influence or elevate hip-hop culture?
JAY Z: I believe that once Tidal is known — we’re not known, because it’s been three days — once we’re known as a destination for really good music, really good sound, and you expect a certain quality from us, people won’t come just to hear. It becomes a destination — “Let me check this out” — just so an artist won’t necessarily have to have the club single, the girl single, to be catchy to be heard. We built a place, a home for creativity where people can have songs that are 18 minutes long with no hook and we’ll hear songs like “Like A Rolling Stone” again, where there’s no clear, definable hook but it’s still considered one of the greatest songs of all time. Once we’ve established that, I think art and music can flourish on their own terms. You don’t have to record into this vacuum —- and again, this is not about against-ness, this about doing something great — and try to get onto a particular station that has a particular sound. I think that that’s kinda divisive to music. That’s not how music is created or consumed — people listen to music because of some sort of truth, some sort of emotion, some sort of great melody. And I think that separation happened at radio mainly because of advertising. It had nothing to do with music. “I have the 18-24 year olds here. You want to play this song at this time, 100 times a week, because everyone’s tuned in.” That has nothing to do with music and everything to do with advertising and something else. I think the idea of putting the music in front once again is what TIDAL is about. Putting the artists in front. The artists own the company — you’re cool with that right? This is a really bad example but: if Michael Jordan said to me, “Hey man! I got some new, great sneakers that nobody’s ever seen. You wanna buy ‘em from me? Foot Locker’s out of business.” I’m gonna go straight to Michael Jordan’s house and buy the sneakers from him. It’s not a problem — that’s what I want to do. Buy your music from artists and have a better relationship. We’re going to offer more, we’re going to talk to you, we’re going to find out what you like and introduce you to new music. Putting the artists back in front, instead of “You get the music if you buy a device, you get the music if you download an app.” The devaluing of music is critical — we all love music.
How does Tidal tend to shift its current perception as a pretentious, self-serving platform for the musical elite, to one referencing the brand essence of being all and for all artists?
JAY Z: I guess by having a conversation, and telling people what it is. That opinion came before we even explained what it was — “This thing is horrible! … What is it?” You know? You never hear Tim Cook’s net worth whenever he tries to sell you something. Steve Jobs, God bless, he had to have been pretty rich — nobody’s ever said, “Oh, the rich getting richer! I won’t buy an iPhone!” Yeah, right. It’s not about being pretentious; again, this is a thing for all artists. You pay $9.99 for Spotify, so why not $9.99 for Tidal. We’re not asking for anything else, we’re just saying that we’ll spread that money to artists more fairly. We’re not saying anything other than that, and we’re saying that we’re in a position to bring light to this issue. We’re using our power that way. And of course there are greater causes, of course. This is not mutually exclusive — there are other problems, real problems going on in the world. We don’t miss the problems; we try to take care of them all. Imagine the President: he has to take care of ISIS, gay rights, equal pay for women, discrimination — all at the same time! So, you can’t say “You started this site when you should be out in St. Louis!” It’s like, okay, J. Cole is out in St. Louis. I wasn’t in St. Louis, but I was in the governor’s office. Because, we can march all day long but if the laws don’t change, then we’ll be marching again and it’ll just be a different slogan on the shirt, and that’s a greater tragedy as well. Everyone has to play their part, everyone has to do different things, and it all has to happen at the same time.
Do you think this can have a systematic effect?
JAY Z: Of course. Absolutely.
Are you concerned that having content exclusive to Tidal will rekindle consumer piracy, considering that existing streaming consumers may be accustomed to a free standard, or are already paying and don’t want to double down on fees?
JAY Z: People that are fans of “free” are no fans of music, right? Hopefully people see the value in what we’re doing. But if not, that’s what you do. You get free music.
If it’s on Tidal and somebody has a subscription to Spotify, they faced with a choice, right? Either get both or not have access to any exclusive content.
JAY Z: At some point they’ll be faced with that decision. Again — there will be other things. This isn’t just about music; it’s also about concert ticketing. It’s a holistic place where the artists will live in. You may be able to download a song for free, but you’re not getting into concerts for free. There are different things that we offer. It’s not just songs — we’re offering value.
What do you hope that Tidal will do for the younger generation that other services have not?
JAY Z: I guess the most ethereal answer is just to improve the quality of life, to improve the level of art. I think it’s important to build up music again, and it’s an important part of peoples’ lives. It’ll enrich your life in some way.
Do you think you can reverse the trend of peoples’ valuation of music?
JAY Z: Absolutely. If a person can pay $6 for a bottle of water, something that used to be free, if someone can do that? I can definitely show you why you should pay for Lauryn Hill’s album. There are 14 reasons, it’s incredible. Someone’s changed our mindset to believe that that bottle of water is worth $6.
How do you take into account the devices and headphones that people are listening to high fidelity audio on? If I have a pair of $10 headphones, how would that compare? Do you guys maybe see a partnership with a headphone company in the future?
JAY Z: We’re exploring those opportunities as well. And I think that if you have a $10 pair of headphones, you should probably buy the $9.99 plan. And if you’re like Vania’s artist friends and you deck your whole house out with hi-fi, then you probably want the hi-fi plan. But we’re definitely looking at opportunities; we have like four people looking at three or four headphone companies.
Tidal is making a strong effort to bring the value of music back into the forefront of the discussion. How far is the company willing to go to convey that message?
JAY Z: Our whole thing is transparency — I think there does need to be transparency. If you went to Bordeaux or something, to look at wine, you’d probably think, “Oh, this is some bougie shit.” But if you went and you saw the craftsmanship, the work that went behind it, and someone’s gotta be picking the grapes, and the whole thing — if you saw the process of what it takes to make an album, maybe you’d have a great appreciation for it as well. So I just think that there needs to be a bit more transparency. I’ve got another great idea that I wish I could share with you all about that sort of thing in particular, and it’ll be coming soon, in the next couple of months, and hopefully it’ll be exactly what you want.