Is Tidal Changing How Fans Talk About Music? : The Record Technological innovations like streaming are shifting how music gets released today — but artist exclusives are also changing the way fans process today's most popular tracks.
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Is Tidal Changing How Fans Talk About Music?

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Is Tidal Changing How Fans Talk About Music?

Is Tidal Changing How Fans Talk About Music?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The technology of the day has everything to do with how you get your music. Today, the music business is pushing toward streaming - pull your music right out of thin air whenever you want it. Just pay a monthly fee. Search for an artist and a song, and there it is. Now, some artists are betting big that you would rather do that then even have the option of downloading it. Are they right? Well, that's the question in this week's All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Many millions of people subscribe to Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music. Upstart streaming services are also trying to break into this market, and the one most in the news right now is Tidal. NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas is here to talk about how they're doing. Hey there, Anastasia.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie - great to be here.

CORNISH: Yes. Let's talk about one big song right now that is a good example of what we're talking about...

(SOUNDBITE OF RIHANNA SONG, "WORK")

CORNISH: ...Rihanna's "Work" featuring Drake. Right now it's number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK")

RIHANNA: (Singing) Work, work, work, work, work, work. You see me. I be work, work, work, work, work, work. You see me do me dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt. So me put in work, work, work, work, work, work.

CORNISH: Anastasia, help me understand how this song is, I guess, making money right now.

TSIOULCAS: That's a good way of putting it. So it's from an album by Rihanna called "Anti," and she sold it only through Tidal. And Tidal is this smaller streaming service that's owned by a group of musicians. And guess who is one of those co-owners of Tidal?

CORNISH: Rihanna, among many other superstars.

TSIOULCAS: Exactly right, and this album "Anti" went platinum less than two days after it was released.

CORNISH: So this is - even though you could only download it through their website, it was an exclusive.

TSIOULCAS: It was at the start, but the bigger path to this platinum status was actually separate from that Tidal relationship. So last year, Rihanna signed a deal with Samsung. And part of that deal was that Samsung gave away a million copies of "Anti" to Rihanna's fans. Those one million free downloads alone from Samsung got Rihanna to platinum. The RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, recently changed their rules to say that streams counted, so Rihanna went platinum just on the basis of that free giveaway.

CORNISH: Ay-yi-yi. So she gets this huge sponsorship deal, and then she also gets the cachet of being a platinum-selling artist.

TSIOULCAS: Right. And obviously the Rihanna project gave a big boost to Tidal's visibility, and that's something that Tidal still really needs. As a paid service, it's still really lagging behind its competitors. So the Samsung promotion with Rihanna was huge, and now Kanye West has put them even more front and center.

CORNISH: Yeah. Let's talk more about Kanye. This is another Tidal exclusive, and let's see if we can play some of it. OK...

TSIOULCAS: Yeah.

CORNISH: We actually - we can't play any of it.

TSIOULCAS: Well, so this is the thing - Kanye West released this album exclusively on Tidal. And to hear it legally, you've got to pay up and have a Tidal membership. And Tidal's numbers have definitely surged since his album "The Life Of Pablo" was released, but it's actually not charting.

CORNISH: OK. How can that be? You just told me streams count, right?

TSIOULCAS: This is kind of where we get into a maze of numbers. Tidal doesn't report its streams to the company that determines the Billboard charts. So with the question of Kanye West, we're in this moment in which an album that's really at the center of a cultural conversation isn't actually part of this big, official, historical record in certain ways.

CORNISH: You know, Anastasia, ever since Tidal was sort of relaunched with Jay-Z and these other artists and they had this business model of artist exclusives, there have been questions about whether this is really going to work. I mean, what's your sense here?

TSIOULCAS: Well, it's a funny time for them. They've really been pushing these artist exclusives, but we'll have to just see. Samsung - remember Rihanna and Samsung? Well, Samsung, over time, has been in talks, apparently, about buying Tidal. And just this weekend, the New York Post was reporting that those talks have resumed in earnest, so we're just going to have to keep an eye on them.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas. Thanks so much.

TSIOULCAS: Always a pleasure, Audie. Thanks.

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