Monday, April 6, 2015

Not waving but yachting

Deborah Orr pretty much nailed the Tidal argument and by making parallels with the ‘100 letter’ from businessmen protecting their own interests she did few favours for an artist community that sought to portray the thought that they were doing us one.

That artists are self-obsessed comes as no surprise to anyone, they’re not out-of-touch as such except that we’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re only in touch when they want something from you. To sell this concept in the thought that they’re giving something back was a sadly skewed idea(l). It’s the thinking of trickle-down economics or as Deborah says ‘what’s good for me is good for you’.

We all know that ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work but still some cling to it as part of long-held and celebrity-fostered aspirational beliefs – we’re all capable of being rich and famous. It was interesting to hear this echoed in a James Brown documentary on BBC4 recently. One of James’ faithful band members revealing that James thought that everyone was capable of pulling themselves up and succeeding whilst forgetting that not everyone had the talent and ability that he had. He went on to note that James’ efforts in other business areas never quite succeeded like his music. Artists always like to believe they can succeed in other areas and their fame sometimes allows this.
What Tidal needed was some point of difference. The pricing was standard with no freemium option – so much so that you’d think everyone was deliberately pegging at the same price, which in my opinion is too high. They’re offering a higher-end audio experience which again seems to play to the providers more than the audience; committed audiophiles are probably already nailed to Neil Young’s Pono mast. So it may only be in the area of exclusive content that Tidal can win. Perhaps by making the big stars part of the picture and promising them a bigger pay-out they will secure exclusives that other streamers can’t get.

I’ve long held the view that artists can and should share more, whether we should be paying for it is a different matter. If we’re obsessed with an act we want new stuff immediately, not to be dictated to by their release schedule and marketing plan.  If we’re not getting the finished article though is it worth a subscription fee? All the acts in the Tidal ‘room’ are control freaks, I can’t imagine that they’re planning any big roll-out of material you can’t get elsewhere or at times that don’t suit them. This may be a case of who blinks first but as Jay Z holds the reins I’m sure everyone is waiting to see what he might do, will he back up words with content? We should also ask (as Adam Bowie has) whether his existing record contracts give him the freedom to do so.

Famous artists have control of the media already; they are interested in being the medium and the message and you will only experience what they want you to experience, when they want you to experience it and perhaps now even how they want you to experience it. I heard another beguiling phrase recently about the difference between rich and poor being not so much about the have and have nots as the the haves and have-yachts. This is essentially the artist community (or at least the successful parts of it) getting on board once the boat has sailed, whinging that the existing terms aren’t fair (to them) but not offering a new solution to a problem we don’t have. In streaming and now with Tidal we are not drowning in choice as much as sinking beneath waves of confusion as well as a million poorly executed puns on water & waves – blame them they started it or, like the kings they imagine themselves to be, they think they can stop it.
 

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