Tidal—Jay-Z’s music streaming platform—is being accused of manipulating its audience’s listening numbers for albums by Beyoncé and Kanye West in order to pay out larger royalties to the artists’ music labels. An investigation, which began in 2017 by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv found that Tidal massively inflated 320 million plays for Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s Life of Pablo albums.
After Tidal’s acquisition by Jay-Z, Beyoncé and West both exclusively launched their albums on the platform the following year and have since received disproportionate shares of royalties to the detriment of other artists, according to Agence France Presse report.
Dagens Næringsliv, a financial newspaper, said it obtained a hard drive containing extensive data from an anonymous source that indicates that the royalties paid out were excessive. Tidal paid Sony Music $2.5 million in April and May 2016 for Lemonade tracks listened to by its members. It also claims that Malmo, a Swedish-based company paid $3 million to Universal Music in February and March of the same year to cover its users playing songs from The Life of Pablo.
In March 2016, the firm claimed that Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo, a six-week exclusive on its platform, had been streamed 250 million times in just 10 days. At the same time, TIDAL claimed that its platform had surpassed 3 million subscribers. These numbers meant that, on average, every single TIDAL subscriber would have had to be playing the Kanye album over eight times a day. Similar suspicions were triggered by the success of Beyonce’s record-breaking Lemonade a couple of months later. TIDAL claimed that Lemonade was streamed 306m times on its platform in its first 15 days post-release.
With the global appeal of Kanye West and Beyoncé, the figures Tidal reported aren’t far-fetched, however, data from trusted music industry research firm Midia in the same month found that TIDAL’s subscriber base only included 1 million people worldwide.
To support their claims, DN enlisted the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which has also published its own report. According to the BBC, the analysis indicates that 320 million false play records were logged for both albums and affected more than 1.7 million user accounts.
“Due to the targeted nature and extent of the manipulation, it is very unlikely that this manipulation was solely the result of a code-based bug or other anomalies,” their study said.
A spokesman for the university added: “Our researchers have used advanced statistical analysis methods to reach this conclusion. However we cannot, based on the data provided to us, determine the source of the manipulation.”
The Next Web puts it in plain English:
According to them the data manipulation is too specific, too targeted, to be the result of a bug or a technical flaw. Furthermore, there are none of the typical traces that usually indicate a breach from the outside. Thus, it’s most likely the manipulation was internal.
DN also reported that it had identified and tracked down several Tidal users from the logs. It said they had disputed listening to the two albums’ songs as frequently as the records indicated and in some cases had evidence they would not having been using the app at the registered times.
DN tracked down 34-year-old Tiare Faatea, a law student in Washington DC, whose streaming logs played tracks from Beyoncé’s Lemonade 180 times within 24 hours.
“No, that can’t be right, I love Beyoncé, but 11 hours a day is completely impossible.”
Geir Rakvaag, a music critic and Tidal subscriber supposedly played Life of Pablo 96 times in a single day—with 54 plays in the middle of the night.
“It’s physically impossible,” he says.
Danish composer and musician Halfdan E. Nielsen’s numbers were also manipulated. He tells DN he initially was enthusiastic about Tidal’s business model, which puts emphasis on high-quality music and proper pay for the musicians involved. “This was supposed to be the way for the music industry to go—the future,” he tells DN, “but now I feel Tidal deserves to get sued the hell out of it.”
Statement from Tidal:
This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an “Israeli Intelligence officer” and our owner as a “crack dealer.” We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously.
Response from DN’s Editor-In-Chief:
“We have since February tried to get comments from Tidal to our well-documented story. They have not been willing to answer detailed questions about the manipulated data. Tidal let the company’s American lawyers answer. And their response was that the data were stolen and manipulated by us. This is of course not true.”
The said article ran by DN early in 2017 in Norwegian, translated to English by Black Enterprise opened with the blurb:
“When 16 of the world’s biggest pop stars, a convicted cocaine smuggler and a former Israeli intelligence officer failed to get enough customers for Jay-Z’s Tidal, the company began to blow up the subscription figures.”
Tidal, which has its main offices in Oslo was bought by Jay-Z in 2015 for $56 million and has received significant coverage from the daily financial newspaper ever since. According to Variety, the quotes reference descriptions of Jay-Z and Tidal COO/Roc Nation executive Lior Tibon in a previous Dagens Næringsliv article, “which were technically accurate at one time but are decades out of date.”