Another CEO leaves Jay Z's music streaming service

Jay Z has had to wave goodbye to two CEOs since he took control of Tidal's parent company, Aspiro, three months ago.
Jay Z has had to wave goodbye to two CEOs since he took control of Tidal's parent company, Aspiro, three months ago.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New York - In the latest setback for Tidal, the new streaming music service from rap star Jay Z, its top executive has left the company after just two months on the job - as Google announces a free digital music service.

Mr Peter Tonstad was installed as interim chief executive officer (CEO) in April after the departure of Tidal's last CEO, Mr Andy Chen. Competition has been heating up in the streaming market, especially with the arrival of Apple's new service, Apple Music, next week.

Jay Z took control of Tidal's parent company, Aspiro, in March after making a US$56 million (S$75 million) bid, and re-established the service as an artist-led endeavour, bringing on more than a dozen music stars - among then Kanye West, Madonna and Beyoncé, his wife - as stakeholders.

"Tidal will be transitioning to a permanent CEO as part of our strategic plan to create a leading platform," the company said in a statement on Tuesday, "and current executives in New York and Oslo will continue to lead our rapidly developing innovation and content initiatives until our new CEO is in place."

Aspiro, which was publicly traded in Sweden before Jay Z's purchase, had its headquarters in Norway. The news of Mr Tonstad's departure was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Tidal arrived with the promise of high-quality audio and video, as well as exclusive content from its various celebrity partners.

And the company has said that it has 770,000 subscribers - far from the 20 million claimed by Spotify, but a significant number for a young service. The company sells subscriptions for US$10 a month, or US$20 for high-fidelity audio.

But the unveiling of the new Tidal in March was mocked by bloggers and even other artists as grandiose and vague, and the company has scrambled to sign licensing deals with record companies.

On Tuesday, the company announced deals with two companies, DistroKid and TuneCore, that let unsigned artists upload their songs to the new service.

On the same day, Google introduced a free tier for its own streaming service, Google Play, which, like Spotify and Apple's new service, offers on-demand music by subscription for US$10 a month.

Google's new free level will be a radiolike collection of playlists that give users a limited number of songs free as a way to lure them into paying for subscriptions, said Ms Zahavah Levine, the vice-president of partnerships for Google Play.

"There needs to be a differentiation," she said. "We hope that by giving users a taste of the service, they'll love it so much that they'll upgrade over time."

Radio-like features have become a popular addition for streaming outlets looking to attract new customers. Apple's new music service includes playlists and a live Internet radio station, and other on-demand services, such as Rdio and Spotify, let people listen free by giving them a limited amount of choice over what songs they hear.

Pandora, which dominates the Internet radio market, has nearly 80 million users, the company said.

Google's service integrates playlist service Songza, which the company bought last year for an estimated US$39 million.

New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline 'Another CEO leaves Jay Z's music streaming service'. Print Edition | Subscribe