What’s Tidal about, besides big names? A top exec explains in our exclusive interview

tidal posts 28 million loss for 2015 over 100 unpaid bills announcement
Stars including Jay Z, Kanye West and Jack White attended Tidal’s launch event in New York City on March 30. Kevin Mazur/Getty

Since Tidal’s star-studded, extravagant unveiling on March 30th, the story of Jay Z’s new streaming music service has been shrouded in doubt and a little bit of controversy. Why should someone pay $19.95 for Tidal? Why isn’t there as much music available as Spotify? Does Tidal really pay artists more?

Vania Schlogel — Senior Executive at Tidal, who also gave the opening keynote speech at the launch event– recently admitted Tidal was “naive” in thinking its multifaceted content strategy could be well represented by 16 millionaires cavorting on stage without offering up any detailed explanations. Since then, Tidal has done what it can to show people how it is different — i.e.: not just another streaming music service. Part of those efforts included the launch of Tidal X, an initiative that brings live-streamed concerts to Tidal.com and the Tidal App. Another facet is Tidal Rising and Tidal Discovery, which, in tandem, provide a platform that showcases emerging artists.

Vania-SchlogelStill, it would seem many don’t yet understand what Tidal is all about. In an exclusive interview with Digital Trends, Vania gives us a deeper look inside the Tidal temple, and speaks to how Tidal is different, how fans may get a chance to perform with their favorite artists, and the company’s complications with Apple.

DigitalTrends: Tidal recently held two live streamed concerts with J. Cole and Jack White for Tidal X. How long has this initiative been in the works?

Vania Schlogel: Before we even launched, we had a business strategy and business plan. There were a lot of strategic initiatives we were working on. This is actually why we kept really highlighting the “artist owned”, because that’s an incentive for artists to basically feel like this is their playground. They have better control over their distribution. They have better control over the company that basically produces and streams their show. They have an incentive to basically give to their fans how and when they want. It’s always been from the jump — our idea was always we’re going to make [Tidal] differentiated. We’re not just a music streaming service, because we’re going to have these amazing offline experiences. We’re also going to be working on streaming other content vertical in addition to music. So this has been months in the works before the launch.

The live stream was pretty crisp. I’m not sure how much you can go into the technical side but who did you work with on the live stream?

Even before we launched, the one thing we’ve kept saying is we want to be authentic.

I technically can’t answer that. I can say since we’ve been working on this for a while now, we’ve looked at different solution providers. It was important to us to provide a high quality experience. These artists, the reason why they got involved, there’s so many different mission statements around the sustainability of the music industry, delivering something differentiated and unique to fans. One of the facets of that is being in high quality. So, whether that’s sound quality or audio/visual. I’ve sat in these meetings and I’ve heard [artists] speak from the horses mouth, so to say. Over and over again, the one thing the artists kept talking about is ‘Man, I just want to be able to provide something to my fans in a way that they can hear it and see it in the best way possible.’ That was the mission statement and that’s also why we spent a lot of time working on this.

Will live streaming shows be a limited time campaign or can fans expect this regularly throughout the life of Tidal?

Oh they can regularly look forward to it. It’s only going to get bigger and better with time. We’ve been out less than a month now since our launch on March 30th. We had the Jack White stream from North Dakota. We’ve got some big surprises coming down the pipeline.

Jack-White-Tidal-Performance

Tidal

In the press release for the Jack White Tidal X performance it stated the live streams will be available to Tidal customers on-demand. Is there a date when that footage will be placed on-demand?

So far we’re doing it on a case-by-case basis because each artist is different and each show will be different. So, whether it’s in the J. Cole format where we we basically had a soft announcement through social media ‘Hey Tidal X concert at this time, tune in.’ Or we might do replays on demand. It’ll be on a case-by-case basis.

Tidal has been pretty in your face. The first thing Tidal did was put together one of the most extravagant collections of artists ever. Jay Z is calling subscribers to thank them and he even addressed misconceptions about Tidal on Twitter. Was that a conscientious decision to be more direct to not only the consumer but to the market and competition? Or was that a reaction to what’s been happening?

There’s no reason why indie artists shouldn’t be paid the same.

No, that’s been the tone we’ve always had. Even before we launched, the one thing we’ve kept saying is we want to be authentic. We kept saying it over and over in our meetings as we were shaping strategy. ‘This has to be authentic. Artists feeling like they’re more connected to their fans, and they generally are more connected to their fans.’ I could name examples without getting on anyone else, but some of the artists were naming examples. Saying ‘when my album came out I wanted it to look and feel like this. I wanted this type of album art to be paired with it. But, we’ll get the message back ‘Sorry that doesn’t fit in to the technical template or design template.’ Whether it’s Jay’s tweets or what have you, it’s always been the authentic voice of the artist.

You do not want to speak badly of any other services. In a recent interview Jay Z said “Spotify can be McDonald’s. We’ll be Shake Shack.” Almost signaling that Tidal may be in competition but will be different. The Tidal Twitter account stated it’s 30 percent higher to purchase on iOS devices. Why is that?

Yeah. I’m glad you’re raising this point. A lot of pricing and whatnot is not– we can not unilaterally mandate that. For example, if you go on the Apple App Store and download the app, the fact of the matter is, not just Tidal but Spotify, Rdio, all streaming subscription players for the life of that subscription have to pay a 30% distribution fee for distributing it through Apple’s App Store. Let’s just go through the brass economics. If we pay 30% to the Apple Store and then 75% to the content owners. So, before we even pay our rent or our employees we’re already 5% in loss makings as a percentage of revenue. Those are prevailing situations in the industry that as much as we want to make new rules and making that better for fans and artists alike, certain things in terms of technological distribution, it is what it is, and we have to react to that.

Will someone be able to purchase the subscription somewhere else and then use it on their iOS device and get the regular price?

Any time you sign up through the web, you can get the $9.99 price and then you can download the app anywhere. [Laughs].

I know you won’t reveal any secrets, but when I heard the rumors of a Jay Z/Beyonce album releasing on Tidal I thought it could be big. Are there any plans for collaborative projects between the artists featured at the Tidal announcement? Will there be collaborative tours and initiatives?

I don’t think we will disappoint our fans and our subscribers. I think it’s going to be really exciting, because the artists do feel like they have the ability to collaborate and work with each other. They all work as a team. The other exciting piece of it is Tidal Rising which we launched a week or two ago. Tidal Rising is us putting a spotlight on indie and emerging artists. There’s going to be continued collaborations around that too. It’s not just going to be the 16 artists on stage. It’s basically going to be a creative hub. Tidal Discovery, which will be launching within the next week, that’s going to allow any artist, signed or not, to upload their music to Tidal.

One of the interesting caveats about Tidal Discovery is that Tidal will handle the copyrights for all the music uploaded. How will that work? Is it just you can record a song at your house and then upload it to Tidal?

Tidal Rising is us putting a spotlight on indie and emerging artists.

Yep. That’s it. So basically we live in a digital world. It’s funny because it’s easier and easier to distribute your own art, but then again it’s not. There are a lot of middlemen and what we’re trying to say is ‘actually there doesn’t need to be a middleman.’ We want to make it easier for artists to self-distribute and upload.

Will the per-stream royalties be the same for Tidal Discovery as it is generally across Tidal?

We strongly believe in the concept that people should not be paid less because they do not come through a major label. Let me give you an example. Industry standard right now is indie labels get a royalty of 55 percent and then there’s a sort of roughly 10 percent publishing on top of that. Majors get 60 percent

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