American rapper and musician Jay Z has removed most of his music from the streaming service Spotify, leaving behind only a few early albums and collaborations with other artists. Among the remaining Jay Z albums on Spotify are his 1997 records In My Lifetime Vol.1 and Reasonable Doubt, as well as 1998’s Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life. Jay Z has also left behind Collision Course, the 2004 album which he recorded with the band Linkin Park, and a few singles he recorded with Kanye West.
What could explain this decision? Jay Z co-owns Tidal, a music streaming service that is in competition with Spotify, which has more of a focus on artist exclusives. Jay Z purchased Tidal in 2015 for $56 million with a promise to customers to be a platform with superior sound quality and better compensations for all artists who used it to host their music. Jay Z has also been a vocal critic of tech companies over the issue of compensating artists; in 2015 at an event in New York he had targeted Google, Spotify and Apple, saying they paid artists much less than what they deserved. This could explain his move from Spotify, a company he views as not being artist friendly.
It is also worth noting that both Spotify and Apple music are still much larger Tidal. Indeed, they are the industry leaders. Spotify has about 100 million listeners, and 50 million paid subscribers while Apple Music has 20 million subscribers. In contrast, Tidal has less than 3 million.
In fact, Tidal has been reported to inflate its subscriber numbers – in September 2015, the same month that Jay Z claimed Tidal had reached a million users, the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv said it received internal reports from the company showing that it only had 350,000 subscribers. In March last year, Tidal claimed it had 3 million subscribers, while its monthly report to music labels stated it had only 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 subscribers. Tidal had also acknowledged that in the past these subscriber numbers had been inflated, and put the blame on past owners. Tidal’s subscriber numbers reached a peak after Beyoncé released Lemonade on the service in April 2016, after which they began to decline, reaching 1.1 million paying customers in October. Thus, this move could be part of a strategy to draw more customers to Tidal.
Fortune reports that in response to this, Apple Music has started to offer exclusives of its own, including from Frank Ocean. Spotify in turn has argued that this fragmentation of content is harmful for the experience of music fans, and to the music industry. The Rolling Stones reported last October, that this trend and business of exclusives are/is starting to reshape the music industry, that fans could expect to see artist exclusives continue for the near future, and that music listeners could get used to the idea of having multiple music streaming subscriptions, since one may not have all of the music they want to listen to.