The Next New: Rihanna's New Album Streams Exclusively on Jay Z's Streaming Service

By: Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAireEditor-In-Chief

Jay Z the rapper and Shawn Carter Fusion Danced together when he distinguished himself as a "business, man" instead of a businessman two years after his retirement on Kanye West's "Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)". Tidal is founded on the idea that everything is not created equal. The fans who can afford Spotify's $9.99/month and/or the vast array of noise-canceling headphones of varying quality and price may not be the same people as that will pay $19.99/month for a TidalHiFi streaming service that promises CD-quality sounding music that is over 4x's better than Spotify's sound quality. Tidal CEO Andy Chen, speaking with The Verge last October, explained "Spotify is for everybody. You don’t even need to pay! But for quality, you have to pay.”

In the language of Hov, that translates to:

"Ay, baby, see, when you're used to Filet Mignon it's kinda hard to go back to Hamburger Helper. It's your choice though, baby."-Jay Z on "Party Life" (2007)

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So...what does any of this have to do with the Barbadian goddess?

Why Would Rihanna Release Her New Album On Jay Z's New Streaming Service?

Months before Jay Z's $56 million acquisition of Tidal's parent company Aspiro was even rumored, Jay was holding secret meetings with the industry elite while everyone theorized over his late-night pow wows with Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift. In less than three weeks since the acquisition was finalized, Taylor Swift has put every one of her albums (except her latest 1989 album) on Tidal and a few of the artists from the secret meeting have joined the promotional campaign on Twitter. Including Rihanna:

"Since our service is double the price of regular market standard streaming services, payouts per user will also be double.”-Tidal CEO Andy Chen

The same reason Rihanna would debut her first album in three years to the meager 17,000 subscribers of Jay Z's Tidal streaming service is why she decided to release the album's latest single on a Dubmash app that is barely four months old. The mula, BABY! Spotify pays upwards of $0.0084 per stream to rights holders, which are usually the labels that take their cut and give the rest to the artists. Rihann's "FourFiveSeconds" collaboration with Paul McCartney and Kanye West has been streamed over 66.7 million times on Spotify since its January 24th release. That would amount to a roughly $560,000 payout from Spotify. Rihanna started her own record label, Westbury Road Entertainment earlier this year and released "FourFiveSeconds" as well as "Bitch Better Have My Money" through the newly minted label. All of her albums are now streaming on Tidal, as well as "Bitch Better Have My Money" which is not streaming on Spotify. 

Universal Music Group (UMG) has been the parent label of Roc Nation since April 2013 and has had a 5% stake in Spotify and a 15% stake in Beats since 2009, before either had streaming services in the United States. Universal Music Group is also the home of almost every artist that attended Jay Z's secret meeting, including Taylor Swift, who removed her albums from Spotify because "it’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is," according to her July 2014 op-ed in The Washington Journal. Spotify operates under a "freemium" model which means it has premium and free tiers, so an artist's music can be streamed thousands of times for free and the only compensation they receive is from ad sales.

Spotify helped Universal Music Group accumulate nearly $1 billion in digital streaming and subscription revenue in 2012 and 2013, yet in their recent negotiations, UMG is persistently urging Spotify to change its free tier in order to encourage users to convert to a paid subscription to ensure higher royalties for the rights holders.

Rihanna is entering her 10th year in the music industry and is now an entity to be revered on the same commercial level as legends like Beyonce and Madonna. Her vocals do not match but the success does. She is also returning during one of the biggest shifts in music history. In 2014, music streaming evolved from an "experiment" to a legitimate business model as At the current rate, on-demand music streaming will be the #1 driver of revenue in the music industry by 2017. 

Infographic: U.S. Streaming Revenues Surpassed CD Sales in 2014 | Statista

Any Precedents? 

Ever since Rihanna's 2012 Unapologetic album, streams now count towards album salesshe was deemed the most streamed female artist on Spotify three years straight and Jay Z released his Magna Carta Holy Grail album through an app exclusive to Samsung Galaxy SIII, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note III on July 4th 2013. According to Jay Z, his star power helped the app experience over 20 million hits in its first day, causing technical difficulties. When Magna Carta Holy Grail was released, the number of mobile music phone listeners in the United States was on its way to 70 million for the first time ever. It seems he chose to release the album through Samsung instead of Apple because:

  1. Samsung offered $5 million to make him platinum.
  2. Samsung's share of the smartphone market was double that of Apple's the year prior.

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The enigmatic Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke released Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, his first album in eight years, as a $6 BitTorrent Bundle on September 26th, 2014. The bundle offered the song "A Brain in a Bottle" and its accompanying music video for free and the rest of the nine-song album behind a $6 paywall. By January, less than four months after the album's release, Thom Yorke's bundle had amassed over 4.4 million downloads. With BitTorrent offering creators 90% of bundle sales, Yorke potentially netted over $20 million in four months without any traditional distribution model.

How Will It Work?

How do you get people to spend twice as much on music during a time when free streaming is all the rage? You deliver quality over quantity, but you also deliver packages. The Tidal service will promise to be the exclusive destination for surprise albums from all of your favorite artists. Rihanna's album, along with the other artists on board, will be streamed exclusively through Tidal, but will be sold through iTunes and will be packaged with exclusive video content (music videos, interviews, documentaries, etc) and merchandise. The artists, such as Rihanna, will sell it directly to fans with very little oversight from Universal Music Group since Jay Z's Tidal service will have the infrastructure for the distribution.  

Artists will set their own price points for albums, rake in a higher royalties and Rihanna's new album will be the flagship release. 


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