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Kanye’s Shenanigans

Friend of the show Kanye West is back to his usual Twitter shenanigans, this time urging Apple to just buy Tidal from Jay-Z already.

What Apple has to gain from acquiring Tidal is pretty valuable: the service made its big splash with a completely incomprehensible press conference with a dozen or so major artists signing the service’s manifesto, many of whom have released content exclusively streamable on Tidal. Getting that content into Apple Music could be a huge step in getting Spotify users to migrate over to their service, and many of the artists backing Tidal would be amazing hosts to have on the Beats 1 programming lineup.

The problem, of course, is that the entire point of Tidal was to take the task of music distribution out of the hands of tech companies, which artists felt couldn’t be trusted to understand artistic intent and what fans truly want. While no names were mentioned during that initial press conference, you could feel the artists’ frustration with Apple’s stronghold over digital music sales with iTunes’ near monopoly on digital music sales, and streaming services like Spotify chipping away at digital music sales altogether. Apple acquiring Tidal would be a sign of defeat for those artists, and maybe an admission that tech companies maybe know best after all.

But I don’t think Apple knows best in this scenario either. Part of what worried me about Apple reaching out to people like Jimmy Iovine who have spent their lives on or running major record labels is that they have little visibility into what the next generation of artists is doing. How do you skate to where the puck is going to be if the people running Apple Music are believers in the major label system, which repeatedly tries to avoid technological innovation if it threatens their established business model? Apple should be trying to dismantle the major label system by building something like Bandcamp and baking it right into their music production tools. For all the talk about providing a platform for the next generation of artists during Apple Music’s introduction, even just getting an account for Apple Music Connect is impossible to do if you don’t have a record label or iTunes Store distributor to request one on your behalf. Contrast with the App Store, where anyone with $99 can get rights to publish their app to the entire world.