Commentary: If Beyonce's next album exclusively drops on Tidal, it might give the flailing music-streaming service the boost it needs to stay relevant.
Beyonce just might be the black Bill Gates in the making, and that's not conjecture. As of last year she owns part of a streaming music service called Tidal (along with her hip-hop mogul husband Jay Z, and chart-topping colleagues Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, et al.). But despite that megawatt star power, Tidal isn't doing too hot right now; it significantly trails behind Apple Music and Spotify in numbers of subscribers.
But Tidal's troubles could be instantly reversed if Beyonce makes the music service the exclusive home of her next album.
And why not? If you're a popular superstar who owns an unpopular streaming music service and your highly anticipated new album is (maybe) about to drop, wouldn't you use the new record as leverage to help your flailing business?
For those out of the loop, Beyonce unexpectedly uploaded a music video for a new song and performed it the next day during the biggest TV event of the year. That was followed up with a tour announcement, prompting enthusiastic speculation about an upcoming record. The existence of this new album has yet to be confirmed in any way, but if she does have something up her sleeve, don't be shocked if its release is also a surprise -- that's kind of her thing.
With no prior announcement and zero promotion, Beyonce stunned the world in 2013 when she dropped a self-titled "visual album" that included highly stylized music videos for each song -- it was a must-see and must-listen. At first it was available only for download on Apple iTunes, a sly jab at streaming services like Spotify (where it is now available). "Beyonce" became the fastest-selling album in iTunes history (but since dethroned by Adele's "25"), and it debuted at no. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart. Despite limiting the album's availability, it was still a screaming success, proving that if Beyonce drops it, her fans will download.
Making new releases exclusive to one service is now common practice for high-profile artists, especially for the ones Apple has in its corner. Taylor Swift, Dr. Dre, Adele and Drake are a few of the artists whose new albums have been limited to iTunes or Apple Music, either temporarily or permanently. And Apple has no qualms about being stingy with its exclusive content; Apple Music is proudly the only place you can stream Taylor Swift's "1989," and you can only download Apple exec and billionaire Dr. Dre's first album in over a decade, "Compton," on iTunes.
Exclusivity, even for just a week or a few months, forces the hand of fans. (I speak from experience -- "Beyonce," her self-titled album, was the first album I purchased on iTunes in years.) That should be the name of Tidal's game, especially considering its all-star roster of co-owners. (Yes, I'm speaking about an ideal world here -- some artists are still beholden to creaky, old, long-term contracts that limit how much say they have as to how selective they can and can't be when marketing their music.) Tidal has tried to do this, but its efforts so far have been unsuccessful and seemingly unorganized.
The release of Rihanna's new album, "Anti," was botched from the beginning. It was supposed to be a Tidal exclusive for a week, but it leaked the day before its official release, and was then inexplicably available on iTunes (and Apple Music in some regions) the day after. What was supposed to be an exclusive treat for Tidal subscribers quickly became common fare.
On the other hand, after much confusion, Kanye West's latest project will only be available to stream on Tidal and -- according to the man himself -- it will never be available for purchase, even though it was for a brief period on its release date. It has since become one of the most pirated albums in recent years. In addition, the polarizing rapper has left a bad taste in the mouths of people turned off by his maniacal Twitter rants, causing them to completely write off Tidal like a backstabbing friend. This is not a good look.
My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale... You can only get it on Tidal.— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 15, 2016
To say that Tidal has room to improve would be an understatement. It has its flaws, but most importantly, it has Queen Flawless herself. A Tidal-only release from Beyonce is one of the only things that can save it from drowning in the competition. The single day that "Anti" was only available on Tidal, the service purportedly got one million new subscribers. The world will hit Peak Beyonce if and when her new project drops and fans will be frothing at the mouth to get it. This is Tidal's last big chance to show that it can truly give us something we can't get anywhere else.
If Tidal doesn't harness its superstar powers to sway people away from their Spotify or Apple Music subscriptions, it'll be the biggest failure in music since Apple forced that U2 album on everyone. Tidal needs to bust out its big guns and stick to them. But first it needs to get its s*** together.