Jay-Z’s music streaming company Tidal has been accused of intentionally inflating streaming numbers for Kanye West’s Life of Pablo and Beyoncé’s Lemonade albums, leading to significantly higher royalty payouts for the superstar artists.
After both albums were released on Tidal in 2016, reporters at Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv became suspicious of the company’s streaming numbers and launched a year-long investigation.
Tidal had about 3 million subscribers when writers began their investigation, yet the company said West’s album was streamed 250 million times in its first 10 days, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade streamed 306 million times in its first 15 days. The report said that would mean every subscriber would have played the albums over and over each day.
In its extensive news story, as translated by Music Business Worldwide, Dagens Næringsliv said it was able to investigate Tidal’s internal streaming data by obtaining a hard drive with songs, user IDs and country codes.
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The report stated: “Beyoncé’s and Kanye West’s listener numbers on Tidal have been manipulated to the tune of several hundred million false plays,” which “generated massive royalty payouts at the expense of other artists.”
The paper said it worked with music research firm Midia and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Center for Cyber and Information Security (CCIS), which reportedly validated its findings.
The paper also said it contacted Tidal users and asked about the streaming logs of their individual play counts taken from the hard drive. The logs listed one user as playing tracks from “Lemonade” 180 times in 24 hours. When asked about her personal streaming data, Tidal user Tiare Faatea in Washington, DC, said: “No, that can’t be right.”
Tidal disputes the accusations saying the story is full of “lies and falsehoods.”
In a statement to the media, Tidal called the report “a smear campaign,” adding that, “The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously.”
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Jay-Z acquired Swedish streaming company Aspiro for $56 million in January 2015, and rebranded it as Tidal.
The service was originally billed as a home for exclusive content, with a roster of popular artist-owners including Rihanna, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s wife Beyoncé.
The streaming service launched with two subscription tiers: a basic membership for $9.99 per month and a $19.99 membership for high-fidelity sound. While Tidal promised exclusive content, some consumers balked on social media about paying for the platform, especially when they could use “freemium” streaming services like Spotify.
Since its relaunch, Tidal has faced a stream of bad press, layoffs and executive departures.
Just eight months after Jay-Z purchased Tidal, the company had hired its third chief executive officer.