In March of 2016, the music industry and hip-hop heavyweight Jay-Z announced the launch of his streaming site, Tidal ––advertised as a higher quality and more exclusive choice as compared to the current streaming contenders, Spotify and Apple Music. Along with this launch came the long-awaited album The Life of Pablo by Kanye West, an instant classic and huge success for both Tidal and Kanye alike. What seemed to at first be a huge accomplishment, gaining over 300 million streams within the albums first few months as well as the huge subscription numbers gained by Tidal, reaching into 3 million subscribers. Dagens Næringsliv, a Norwegian publication dealing with business news, conducted an investigation and as of May 9th, 2018, has discovered how this data came to be.
Along with The Life of Pablo by Kanye West, Beyoncé released her album Lemonade on the streaming website as well – TLOP being released exclusively on Tidal. The claim was that within the first 10 days of its release, the 3 million subscribers to Tidal streamed TLOP 250 million times. Within the first 15 days of the release of Lemonade those same subscribers (plus those acquired in the interim of the two albums) streamed the album 306 million times. Upon investigations, DN found that 150 million plays for TLOP and 170 million plays for Lemonade were duplicates and did not accurately depict the streaming data for either album.
For the music industry and the face of streaming as a whole, this is a big deal. Streams are not calculated in the same way as album sales or sales of songs –– for an artist to gain royalties from streaming a singular release must be played for a number of times until it can be considered equivalent to the purchase of the song. Meaning, that for an artist to make money their songs must be played a certain number of times, and for this to equate to album sales the service tracks the number of times the album as a whole is played/or streamed. In the case of Tidal giving weight to duplicate plays, when a song is repeated in succession on a single count, it pays the artist for streams that don’t necessarily exist. It will be interesting to see, with streaming being so new, what changes will be made and how it will affect artist revenue.
Tidal responded in a statement to CBS News, “This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an ‘Israeli Intelligence officer’ and our owner as a ‘crack dealer.’ We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies, and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously.”