Rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z's new album, “4:44,” was released on Friday to almost universal acclaim. It was also certified platinum based on streaming and download numbers.
But because it was available exclusively on his streaming platform, Tidal, and to customers of the Sprint phone company, the vast majority of music fans have not been able to hear what is being touted as one of Shawn Carter's greatest albums.
The release deal with Sprint, which acquired a 33% stake in Tidal earlier this year, is similar to that of Jay-Z's last album, “Magna Carta: Holy Grail.” That album was released by Tidal and Samsung, which purchased a million downloads of the album.
“4:44” will be available on other streaming services this week, but its exclusive release made it difficult for music fans to listen. Snoop Dogg took to Instagram to praise the album, but criticized the inability to access the album and admitted to receiving a pirated copy.
Bloomberg business reporter Lucas Shaw joined The Frame to discuss whether Tidal's release strategy make sense in today's music world.
On Tidal’s exclusive business model:
It's everything that's wrong with the exclusive model that was in vogue for a couple of years in music and — with the few exceptions like this — has largely gone away. It didn't work all that well for the services, and artists didn't like it ... because it limits your music to people. I, for example, pay for two different services. It's preposterous that I spend $20 a month on music and I can't get this one album from an artist I really like. So I think more people have really come around to the idea that that's not sustainable.
But Jay-Z's in a particularly unusual position because he is the owner of a music service and he so badly wants it to work. And he has this belief that artists would do better by trying to take ownership of the streaming service, not giving it away to these tech companies like Spotify. The problem is, he's in a privileged position to be able to limit where his music goes in a way that I just don't think a developing artist can do.
On Jay-Z’s original message for Tidal:
The original sin for Jay-Z in trying to sell Tidal to the masses was positioning it as this service of the artist by the artist, the everyman, but then recruited the 15 or 20 most popular artists in the world to be his owners and the beneficiaries from it. And that is so burned into people's minds.
On why major phone companies like Sprint are buying into music subscription services:
You've got all these phone companies — Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T — looking for something, anything, to give them a leg up on the competition ... much like a music service that is more or less the same [as their competitors]. They all offer the same song, they all offer similar features. They need something they make themselves different, whether it's original video or radio.
To hear John Horn's full interview with Lucas Shaw, click on the player above.