Home

TIDAL Troubles: Jay Z’s New Enterprise and the Artist-Audience Disconnect

2 Comments

Stream of consciousness blog post coming in 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …

Friends, Romans, Tweeters, lend me your ears!

Jay Z took to Twitter yesterday to defend his new streaming music enterprise TIDAL, an attempt to counter criticisms and what he claimed to be a heavily sponsored smear campaign labelling the venture a flop. It was a rare sight, prior to the so-called rant (didn’t seem like a rant to me) the @S_C_ account had only tweeted 215 times since 2008.

Jay Z who NEVER tweets actually turning to Twitter to try and connect with people (which he – not that I mean to be cynical – may only see as connecting with the ‘market/customer’) garnered your typical internet trolling reactions, a lot of insightful opinions, and even business advice.

“TIDAL is for all” … No?

Jay Z’s tweets re-emphasised TIDAL’s selling points: it aims to empower artists, connect them directly with their fans (cutting off the middle man) and give music lovers more and better music. TIDAL is pro-artist and fan.

For now, it seems most people aren’t buying it. Among the many rebuttals three popular opinions stood out to me:

  1. At $20 per month TIDAL is too expensive.
  2. We see what TIDAL will give to the artist but we don’t see what it will give to the fans/audience.
  3. Even if I wanted to spend that amount of money, today’s mainstream music isn’t worth it.

These opinion reflect a deep disconnect in the relationship between artist and audience, which, in my opinion, has been present for a long time but masked by systematic marketing.

Is it worth it? Did I put enough work in?

The artist-fan relationship is founded on a special bond. Though one (artist) delivers a service (music) in exchange for capital ($) from the consumer (audience/fan) what actually connects artist and audience is sharing the experience of art.

This shared experience is amplified by the cultural ties of a music genre to its fan base. Thus the value of country music, hip hop, punk rock etc, extends beyond just music. (This is one reason why some artists despise referring to audiences/fans as ‘customers’ or ‘the market’.)

For the most part, people don’t mind paying for music so long as in return they receive an experience they consider equal or superior in value. This return in value is extremely important because it is the pivot around which the business of show business revolves.

Though a portion of audiences have for long expressed discontent with the value of mainstream music, producers and (in some cases) artists have been able to ignore the pressure to create music with more value. Two reasons why this was possible: 1) the proliferation of free music on the internet 2) marketing developed to such a systematically efficient state that sub-par products/services (the music) could be sold successfully despite discontent from the buyers.  

Once the pressure to create great music was no longer a motivational factor for mainstream success, a disconnect was inevitable. In this light, one key problem facing TIDAL is that it is trying to cash in on an artist-audience connection which no longer exists.

Devaluation

Take rap music for example, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s rap music wasn’t just music, it was a movement, a voice for a generation. The heavily ideological music of rappers like Tupac and Nas were an affirmation of the African American identity. Even the ‘I’m flossing like a boss’ music of rappers like Jay Z and P.Diddy were essential parts of the movement – they affirmed financial success as part of an African American’s identity.

However, the music, in its mainstream form, did not keep up with the shift in priorities of the audience. The music stopped listening to its fans. The audience’s value-needs expanded but the music stayed narrow. And when it realised it could still make money without listening to its fans, it happily jumped into that pool. (This circumstance is not unique to rap, it has manifested in rock, R & B and, yes, even pop music.)

While this circumstance offered short-mid term gains for artists and producers, it always threatened to backfire in the long-run. People have spent so long asking the music to care about them but it couldn’t give a rat’s ass. Today we have TIDAL asking people to care about it but they can’t give a rat’s ass.

Show me the money movement!

Consider the refusal to identify with TIDAL in comparison to the cult-like followership with which people received enterprises like Wu Tang’s WU WEAR or Jay Z’s ROCAWEAR. In those cases people weren’t just buying into a brand, they were participating in a movement. More importantly, they felt they were contributing to a vision.

I reiterate: the business of show-business revolves around a healthy artist-audience relationship. When selling any piece of performance art (music, film, theatre etc) the superior producer aspires to create an artistic experience which transcends the financial cost of that art.

If after listening to that album or watching that film or play, the fan/audience is still ruminating on how much was spent then the producer and artist are doing something wrong. The least aspiration is to have the audience feeling it cost a little too much but it was still worth it. The highest aspiration is to have the audience feeling it underpaid for the art.

The greatest respect a person in show business can show an audience is return artistic value for their financial loyalty. Sadly, there’s not much respect for the fans in mainstream music and honestly even the fans show a lack of self-respect. This is one reason why Jay Z, an artist renowned for his skill in business is, at least for now, being disrespected for his business.

I for Indie

Is TIDAL doomed? I don’t know. Personally, I hope not. The music industry definitely needs a structural revolution. Even if its present format fails, I hope and trust Jay not-a-business-man-but-a-business-man Z will return to base and resurface stronger.

People do want to support platforms like TIDAL it just has to offer something to the people. And so does the music. Believe it or not some people take pride buying their music rather than downloading it. But when the system seems to be exploiting them, well, torrent sites are only a click away, no?

TIDAL needs to be pushed by the RIGHT FACES and super-star-rich Jay Z, Madonna, Beyonce ARE NOT THOSE FACES. Surprise-surprise but people don’t identify with mill(bill)ionaires asking for more money. Surprise-surprise but upcoming artists aren’t excited about bigger artists eating out of their pie.

I think, as do others, that TIDAL needs to have independent artists more at the forefront. I can’t figure out if Jack White, Jason Aldean and Arcade Fire are suitable or if they’ve been tainted by being part of the TIDAL 16. What independent artists would bring to the face of TIDAL is relatability; they’d bridge the disconnect in the artist-audience relationship.

To the audience their involvement would mean/suggest TIDAL does truly have benefits for indie acts. The impact of seeing indie artists being (sort of) backed by a Jay Z, Madonna or Jack White would also help break down barriers from the artist-audience disconnect.

Another advantage indie artists would bring is using the right language in trying to get people to connect with TIDAL. From day one Jay Z’s language has been wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It sounds like bullet points from a business proposal. Even reading about TIDAL is a bore. Nothing to get one excited about having better access to music. It’s all money, percentages, shares, subscriptions … egh! It should be about the love of music, the shared experience of art.

And just to reiterate, the artist-audience disconnect means that the super-star-rich likes of Jay Z and Madonna are not the right people to be talking about sharing the love of music (for $20 per month).

Niggas in Paris, Cousins in Nigeria

A quick word must be said on Jay Z’s comment about his ‘cousin moving to Nigeria to discover new talent. First off, his cousin moved to LAGOS, not Nigeria. Don’t get the wrong idea now, Lagos is in Nigeria (No, CNN it’s not the capital, and neither is Nairobi) but that cousin is highly unlikely to have any impact beyond specific vicinities within Lagos. Heck, beyond specific offices.

Secondly, that cousin is highly unlikely to discover any new talent. And no, not because there is no new talent but like any industry, those at the top will place a stranglehold on the cousin going beyond them – if said cousin even intended to search beyond them in the first place.

Indie artists in Nigeria are likely to gain nothing from the presence of Jay Z’s cousin, while a few already at the top will be presented to the global market as new talent. Indeed, to the global market they are new talent but it would be a deception to present rich Nigerian superstars as TIDAL’s contribution to Nigerian music.

Vulnerability: the art of empowerment

My final thought on TIDAL is this: I do believe Jay Z would put TIDAL in a better position to gain more patronage if he made himself vulnerable. Jigga maybe needs to just put himself out there, financially, reputably  – sometimes the safe card is your enemy.

If Jay Z set TIDAL up in a way that he (and all/some of the TIDAL 16) are taking some sort of pain or loss in order for new artists and music lovers to have a better artist-fan relationship (which actually means more patronage for TIDAL) people would be more willing to back the enterprise with massive support.

Vulnerability is a reverse way of being in control. It’s an art no other artist knows better than actors. In order to gain control of the audience, the actor makes him/herself vulnerable by opening up completely. This forces the audience into an emotional and psychological corner from which they capitulate by giving themselves over completely.

The rule of thumb is: all things being equal, if two actors are in a scene and one is naked, that is the one who is in control because he/she is more vulnerable. However, that’s not to say I’m suggesting Jay Z should get naked on TIDAL, especially not when Alicia ‘Aphrodite’ Keys is in the building.

Advertisements

NGF Crisis, the Artist and Nigerian Mythos

5 Comments

Every society has its mythos; the intricate threads of beliefs and opinions which hem its daily living, stitching opinions and oppositions. Mythos plays nursing mother to society’s collective consciousness; cuddled in the lock of its arms, we feed the same source which we suck dry. All societies are carried by pillars of mythos – the United States, ancient Greece, western Africa, Ajegunle, Maitama etcetera. Very importantly, ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY – family, academia, vocational life etc – are rife with perspective-shaping mythos. Is it not normal then that when these pillars are budged, society quakes?

The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) election crisis – more crisis for the Guv’nahs than for the regular folk, really – has for weeks now been the issue of debate and mediocre Machiavellian machinations. Many in the nation have watched with cynicism, criticism and glee-of-the-oppressed as ‘their excellencies them’ have strapped on political bikinis for this mud-fight.

It all started when the gubernatorial royals (note to self: possible title for cheesy British sitcom) got together to vote a new president for their ‘Governors only’ club. However things went kaput! when the 35 adults – ADULTS, I say! – were, to put it in delicate ebonics, unable to get they shit together (togethurr?). The behind-closed-doors event was videoed (weirdest derivative ever, I know), presumably, by the Governor of Osun state, and the videoed video went viral once the public got a hold of it – thanks Sahara Reporters!

As always, expected vituperations followed. We laughed, cried, decried, were angered, and arm wrestled over our woeful estate of governance! Yet at the heart of this dramedy lies a hidden-in-plain-sight statement about the relevance of Nigerian artists to their society and the status quo of Nigerian mythology. Mythology? No, no, I don’t mean Shango and Amadioha digging it out in a two-way deirific battle atop the precipitous heights of Olumo Rock. I speaketh, rather, of modern mythology.

20130604-091347.jpg

Politicians play a dominant role in the modern mythology of Nigeria. As both leaders and celebrities, how they and their offices are perceived is crucial to the sustenance of corruption… erm, I mean, to the sustenance of governance. Our mythos, you see, is a complex network of contradictory yet symbiotic socio-sympathetic nerves which connect the everyday Nigerian with the objects/subjects of his ‘real fantasies’ (phew!).

A PROBLEM arises, however, when the persons mythologized are alive and kicking. Being alive in the time of your myth creates the MOTHERSHIP of dilemmas: you have to live up to your mythos, or at least live a semblance of it. Hercules may have actually been a whimp who frequently got his butt kicked by the mulieres of Greece, but he wouldn’t have to had deal with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube exposing this epic chagrin. He probably would only have had to grapple with gossip by word of mouth – which is like 0.0000000000001G in internet speed time. But every time Lionel Messi walks out of the tunnel, he has to prove he is the best footballer in the world. And everytime a Nigerian politician steps into the public eye he has to protect the delicate fabric of mythos which beautifies the ignominy surrounding him.

The ineptitude of individuals in positions of authority in Nigeria could win the Oscar for biggest open secret ever. (It must be noted of course that not all in positions of authority are inept, the shoddy guys are just more fun to play with.) Despite this general awareness we accept these… erm, “special needs” authority figures, regardless – often offering little beyond passive resistance. What we are taught to revere, what our mythology tells us to respect, is the position not the person. (A factor found in other modern societies, not just Nigeria, really.) Therefore, all the person, be he the king of olodos or jester-olodo to the king, needs to do is reach that position of reverence, those seats of power, those thrones of mythos! (Insert thunder and lightning sound effects here!) Think of it like a safe-zone in childrens’ catch me if you can games. The rules are, “you can’t touch us if we’re standing in here“.

What things like the NGF election video do then, is sharpen Sabretooth claws, get pumped up on adrenaline and, with mutant ferocity, tear at threads which fasten our accepted/imposed myths.Tthey peel the veils from our eyes; take Freudian sawed-off shotguns, loaded with 16 inch Jung bullets, and shoot down psychological barriers placed between us and the obvious truth. They force us to see. They compel us to walk into dark alleys which we often pretend not to know of, simply because we are too damn stressed out dealing with the daily-bread-battles of life.

This is where the Nigerian artist – the modern Nigerian artist – comes into query. The question I find myself unable to ignore is: when it comes to the necessary destruction of mythos, isn’t the internet doing what Nigerian artists are supposed to be? Is the artist (Nigerian or other) not meant to be the one who exposes the flaws and negativities in our societies? Is it not the duty of the creatively blessed to serve as watchtowers for mankind? Is this not why artists see, hear, taste, smell and feel differently? Is this not why artists have uniquely warped perceptions, so as to delve into the dimensions of our existence, unreachable by ‘normal’ minds, and extract wonder – pertinent wonder – out from the mundane?

Now, no one can or should impose responsibilities upon artists or art, and in no way do I mean to do so. Let expression be what it will be! However, in examining humanity’s long history in the arts, do we not find a common thread in relevance to one’s society where the best of artists have always existed and golden ages of art prevailed? Has the Nigerian artist then refused or failed to assert his/her relevance beyond being the bossom of Bacchus-esque frivolities? A common argument is that the Nigerian public does not like to confront important issues through art, preferring ONLY jollification and escapism. However doesn’t the repeated virality of videos like the NGF elections tell a different story?

Perhaps I could/should narrow “Nigerian artists” to those in music and film? Writers exempted as the nature of their art prohibits frequent engagements with trivialities. (I dare you to write a novel about nothing but your flossing steez!) But, on the other hand, aren’t the various arts forms one holistic community, thus obligated to look out for each other? There should not arise a misconception that artists are only relevant when they deal with political issues. Nein! Art should NOT be considered ONLY a weapon to use AGAINST government. This erroneous assumption is, in my opinion, partly responsible for the stifled range of topics found in some art forms.

A plethora of issues are available for artists to woo. Society is PREGNANT with mythos from other levels apart from the political: religious, social, cultural, psychological, philosophical, esoteric, etc. And of course art is NOT restricted to the destruction of mythos alone. Neither should it be taken that art must always be dead serious. The issue is range, or lack thereof, and relevance.

Is it not the case, then, that in the absence of creative explorations of matters close to our cultural hearts, and near to our national cake, society has turned to the internet for pertinence and to the Nigerian artist for flippancy? Have we not CEASED to look to upcoming movies and songs with hopes for BOTH enjoyment and poignance? Do we not instead rely on the next REAL LIFE CALAMITY courtesy of YouTube, an accidental film maker and a well charged phone? Yet if this is so, can one really, really blame the Nigerian artist? Really? Because if you think about it, the roundness of a woman’s buttocks and the trauma of being used like a roll-on are not going to sing about themselves, are they?

Ps: it is important to note that there are lots of talented artists out there who stray from the worn out norms to give birth to art pieces as rich as they are diverse. To these, one can only say, thank you so much.

About the writer (This is where I talk about myself in 3rd person)
Africa Ukoh (@Pensage) is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, a stage director and concept consultant. He works with writers, actors, directors and other creative artists, providing key and insightful contributions to the development of their skills and projects. You can check out some of his work here, here, and here. He is a co-founder of African Renaissance Theatre & Ent. (A.R.T). A new arts movement based in Nigeria. You can can find out about A.R.T here and here. He is currently working on the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House project, and you can find out about that here and here.

… Mightier than the Sword

Leave a comment

THE PEN. THE BLOG. THE VOICE. THE WORD.

20130113-102005.jpg

THEY ARE MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD!

%d bloggers like this: