So what is Jay Z thinking? He turned 45 in December. The onetime street hustler is now a husband and a father and hobnobs with world leaders such as President Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France. Some say he has grander ambitions in middle age. “He’d like to be a billionaire,” says Rob Stone, co-founder of the Fader, a magazine that extensively covers the rap world. “He’s talked openly about that. But I think in his mind, it’s no longer just about how much money he’s making. It’s about his legacy and what the name Shawn Carter will mean after he’s gone.” He wants to save the music industry from the brutal economics of streaming—and make himself a fortune in the process. So far he’s doing neither. ... For Jay Z the entrepreneur, the challenge was plain: Find a way to capitalize on the technology industry’s takeover of the music business beyond being a high-priced shill. ... The losses didn’t frighten Jay Z. He offered a 60 percent premium over Aspiro’s market value, according to a filing, and repositioned it as an artist-friendly alternative to Spotify that would pay higher royalties to record labels and artists. ... You can still listen to the catalogs of virtually every Tidal owner on Spotify. ... It’s too early to write off Tidal. But if the company does fail, it may be because Jay Z didn’t anticipate the skeptical response to his claim that he was working for some greater good of all musicians.
Amid a slow growth in royalty payouts, Spotify is investing in a range of projects aimed at keeping artists happy, mostly by leveraging the company’s huge goldmine of listener data. The effort includes new metrics tools for musicians, steadily improving fan targeting, and a range of curated and algorithmic playlists to help artists reach new listeners. ... Spotify’s artist-focused initiatives aren’t sheer acts of generosity, of course: They also have a direct bearing on the company’s future success as a business. The Stockholm-based firm, last valued at $8 billion in 2015, boasts 50 million paying subscribers but steep losses ever since it was founded a decade ago. And the competition, which increasingly comes from tech giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon, is fierce. ... The more indispensable Spotify becomes to creatives, the stronger its leverage in negotiations with record labels. The company is currently in the long-awaited process of renegotiating deals with labels and rights holders, who are anxious for better terms. But like every other streaming platform, it’s eager to shift the basic math of the new music economy further in its own favor