I’m an artist. Let me start by making that clear. I am not an artist in terms that you may be familiar with (I am a spoken word artist) but I am an artist nonetheless. I am releasing a project this summer. Some of my project will be released free of charge and some of my project will be released for purchase. But in the back of my mind, I fear that only my friends, family and a handful of admirers will purchase my work. Because when videos are released on Youtube most of the music/poetry enthusiasts will use a video to MP3 converter or other illegal means of obtaining the tracks. It’s just how my generation gets down.
This kind of sucks. Not because I am disheartened by my likely loss of profit but because of today’s reality juxtaposed to my memories. I remember buying new CDs and staring at the album art for hours. It was the only right thing to do, considering that I wrestled with the plastic, bonus track stickers and weird sticky peely thing for what seemed like hours to even get to the case. It was a precious and sacred tradition of mine to read every word of the lyrics, acknowledgements and credits before I even put the CD in the player. I wondered about the artists’ creative process, how they wrote, what they thought about when they sang. I studied their portraits very closely, made sure I didn’t miss any opportunity to interpret the slightest smile or message in their eyes. This is when I chose my favorite group member from Destiny’s Child (The Writings on the Wall era) or marveled at Ms. Hill’s beauty even if engraved on a wooden desk for the Miseducation cover. Then when I pressed play, the real magic happened. I became consumed by the complete experience, the complete story. The bass thumping from my boom box’s speaker fused with every emotion that my new music elicited.
But I live in an era where music is stolen or given for free. Where I can buy a single instead of listen to a complete body of work (for the few that are still created). I live in the era of the iTunes shuffle. That is why Tidal was born. It is an answer to the rapid monetary devaluation of music. This is the age where the number one record does not mean millions of albums sold but a mere couple hundred thousand, or where records rarely go platinum but instead are made into videos that can then be certified on Vevo for 100 million views. But that is only if you can afford to create a video. Today, being an artist is expensive because the value is not found in the art anymore. Again, this sucks.
It sucks like not being able to find a transparent game boy color in stores , or like Blockbuster going out of business or like being distracted by social media. These things are at its best unfortunate. And so is our shift in music. So that is why I do not understand why there is such a delusion of importance surrounding the release of Tidal. Let’s be real. It is an artist owned platform that puts money into the artists’ hands in exchange for their music. I understand why that is a solution to a problem, but I do not understand why people of influence are using the word revolutionary when describing it, not at this time in our country. It just doesn’t make sense.
During the press conference on Monday, it was hard enough to watch the awkward body language of celebrities lined up on a stage in front of a few jeering fans, trying to comprehend why Mrs. Keys is comparing this moment to a graduation (girl..what?). But then to hear the cheap attempts to justify the inflated prices of the subscription with words such as “expertly curated editorials” was unbearable (again..what?) . It seemed like more of a benefit to the artists’ pockets than the fans’ ears. Which is fine. I get it. But why now?
Why spend time and energy on planning a social media campaign, hiring branding experts, graphic artists, marketing directors, camera crews, event planners, etc. for a streaming music service? Why during a time when our country is at war with itself. When prejudice ideologies are surfacing and it seems like black men are being killed every week. The heart of racism has resurfaced (just peruse social media) and we have the opportunity to confront it in new and innovative ways. Why launch Tidal in a climate where our first lady has to defend her choice to attend an event called “Black Girls Rock”? It seems so inappropriate considering our context.
You’ve shown that you can mobilize some powerful people to achieve something. I know it is not just your celebrity peers, but there are lawyers and music executives negotiating deals behind the scenes. You’ve proven that you can stop time so that people will hear what you have to say. But why for a cause that fills your own pockets? People listen to you, you have influence.
Why not mobilize together and hold press conferences to address police brutality? Why not sign a declaration to use your influence for something greater?
Watching the press conference and hearing some of you use words such as movement, seemed so strikingly inauthentic when that same word is used by foot soldiers and activists, who listen to your music and are actually trying to build one.
I am not asking you all to be saviors, I am simply asking you to steward your influence in a way that honors this moment in our country’s history. We do not need any more distractions.
– A Confused Millennial