Jay-Z’s TIDAL Marketing Mess



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When Jay-Z announced TIDAL, a new and “revolutionary” streaming music service, I rolled my eyes. Not in a dismissive way to suggest that I thought it would fail, but more in the “Oh, so this is Jay-Z’s latest multi-million dollar move” because everything he touches turns to gold. Or so I thought.

I casually read their business model. TIDAL’s raison d’être is all about giving back to the artists. Giving them what they deserve. Great, I thought, give ‘em what they deserve! But then I saw that TIDAL costs $20 a month.

For comparison, Spotify costs $10 a month. When I discovered this price differential, I immediately became very curious as to how Jay-Z, one of the better marketers and storytellers of the 21st century, would market TIDAL to a likely skeptical customer base.


Opening Ceremonies

Jay-Z kicked off the introduction of TIDAL with a swanky press conference that featured a heavy dose of starpower, with names like Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Madonna, Kanye West, Daft Punk, and Jack White. Wow – that’s a lot of starpower for an opening ceremony to come out for a fledgling company. How did Jay-Z manage to get all of them to line up so nicely on stage for all of us to gawk at?

In case you were wondering, each of those big names owns equity in TIDAL. (Except for Beyonce. She’s married to the CEO). And each of those big names went on to express disdain with the current state of the music industry.

The general tone that emanated from these artists was mostly “woe is me”, as the artists complained about not getting paid enough.

Wait, What

It was rather amazing to see this strange display – super-duper millionaires who we all love, complaining about not receiving enough money, and asking for our (monetary) help to take back the music industry.


To have Jay-Z, a true MC with an undeniable skill for intros and presentation, produce what I would consider to be a rather offensive display of entitlement was rather shocking. The irony of a tone deaf press conference promising superior audio quality was just too much to listen to.

Alicia Keys made an impassioned plea, stating “our intent is to preserve music in our lives”.

Things got worse as TIDAL’s marketing reached new levels of tone-deafness. Kanye West said TIDAL was the beginning of a new world. Arcade Fire told us we could make music history by making our Twitter profiles blue.

Despite the awful introduction, what really sunk TIDAL was its questionable market research.


Bad Market Research

The first rule of market research is to know your customer base. And the first mistake that TIDAL made was to assume that potential customers would care that artists might not make enough money. Music industry veteran Bob Lefsetz explained the very basis for TIDAL’s misguided thinking in a quote for the ages:

So first and foremost you’ve got to pay for Tidal…And therefore it’s dead on arrival. Just like Apple’s new music service. Because people are CHEAP! They love their money more than their favorite artists, never forget it. And the kind of person who pledges devotion to Tidal artists is the same kind who’s home alone, broke, waiting for their parents to put cash on their debit card. 

Lefsetz nailed it on both fronts. Fans might love artists, but they undoubtedly have more love for their own hard earned money. And those who do claim to love artists above all else likely don’t have the actual cash (because it’s not hard earned) to support said artists.

More Bad Market Research

The other assumption that Jay-Z made, and likely the assumption that he and TIDAL brass are clinging to, is that TIDAL offers superior audio quality. This assumption carries two risks:

  • Do people care enough about superior quality to pay extra for it?
  • Is the quality actually going to be better?

The answer to both these questions is murky. Sure, people want higher quality audio. But for an extra $10 a month? That’s a tall order. As for whether TIDAL truly offers superior quality, this blind experiment from The Verge let users listen to TIDAL, Apple, and Spotify. TLDW: there was no clear winner.

Industry Backlash

What seemed to be the final straw in the camel’s back which swept through TIDAL like a wave of contempt and ill will was the industry backlash from music industry peers.

It wasn’t just average Joe’s who were turned off by TIDAL’s opening ceremony. Lily Allen, Death Cab for Cutie, and Mumford & Sons were a few of the artists who trashed TIDAL. And they did it on social media:


Now what?

While Lilly Allen waves at Jay-Z cruising by on his yacht, music fans can shake their heads at Jay-Z’s mess of a marketing plan, as TIDAL is likely finished. There are, however, a few quick fixes that Jay-Z could try which might give TIDAL some life:

  1. Slash TIDAL’s monthly cost from $20 to $10, at least for a time.
  2. Tell TIDAL artists to cool it with the “change the world” rhetoric.
  3. Step up Instagram and Snapchat presence. TIDAL’s Twitter output is actually impressive, but the real customers – Generation Z – can be found on Instagram, Snapchat and Vine. They should pour all of their marketing dollars into those 3 outlets.

Until TIDAL takes some drastic marketing and social media measures, it is likely that they will fall by the wayside, and Spotify will remain standing.

Think otherwise? Hit me up on Twitter and tell me what you’re thinking!

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