Tidal, the music-streaming platform co-owned by Jay-Z, was intended to be an artist-friendly alternative to Spotify, Pandora and other services. But it’s just been accused of being too artist-friendly. Offering exclusive content and the highest royalty payments of any other service, Tidal was the only place fans could initially hear Lemonade by Beyoncé and The Life of Pablo by Kanye West. While those albums were both huge hits, a Norwegian newspaper has exposed what it says are false Tidal numbers, inflating the play-counts of those two albums in particular.
Tidal has been praised for being artist-owned. In addition to Jay-Z, its owners include both Beyoncé and Kanye West, as well as 13 other acts, including some of the biggest names in music. Now it stands accused of falsifying the number of streams and causing record labels to pay too much to artists in royalties.
When The Life of Pablo was first released, Tidal claimed the album had been streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days. But the streaming service also claimed it had 3 million subscribers — meaning that every Tidal subscriber would have to listen to the album eight times per day. Likewise, Lemonade — released just over two months later — was said to have 306 million streams during the first 15 days it was available.
While it’s possible some fans could leave the album on overnight — the band Vulfpeck earned $20,000 from Spotify for its fans doing just that — the numbers don’t quite add up. Particularly when you take into account these alleged false Tidal numbers include by-track information. A music critic was listed as having played songs from The Life of Pablo 96 times in one day, 54 of which were in the middle of the night.
In April and May of 2016, Tidal paid Sony — Beyoncé’s label — $4 million in royalties, $2.5 million of which were from Lemonade. That February and March, the service paid €3.2 million to Universal, West’s label; The Life of Pablo earned €2 million of that. (It’s worth noting that in 2017 West left Tidal, claiming the service still owed him $3 million.)
Tidal denies manipulating its data, claiming the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv lied to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which did the analysis. The streaming service also claims the original data was stolen, incomplete and changed. The service does not share its data publicly.
Though it remains to be seen whether or not the streaming counts can be confirmed, we have to admit it’s funny to see artists ripping off record labels for a change.