Among the big music streaming services, TIDAL has usually been the most controversial. The Jay-Z-backed service has been losing money, gone through several CEOs and even reactivated and charged cancelled accounts. Despite being backed by the likes of Daft Punk, deadmau5 and Calvin Harris, and actually having a pretty great user interface, TIDAL continues to flounder.
Now, the service is under heat for doing the unthinkable: faking streaming figures to increase royalty payments. Even more unthinkable, the fake streams are only for Kanye West and Beyoncé‘s The Life of Pablo and Lemonade albums, respectively.
Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv launched an investigation into TIDAL’s streaming figures in 2017. TIDAL’s massive stream numbers for TLOP and Lemonade—far exceeding TIDAL’s subscriber number—inspired the investigation. The newspaper put out an initial report suspecting TIDAL had inflated its subscriber numbers, and an updated report accuses the service of straight-up faking streams for Kanye and Beyoncé.
The newspaper received an illicit hard drive that contained huge amounts of TIDAL data. TIDAL has since challenged the data, but record label data matches up with the hard drive data. To find out more, the newspaper submitted the data to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for examination. The university put out its own report, which includes pretty insane numbers.
The data shows numerous TIDAL users racking up millions of TLOP and Lemonade plays, often during odd times and at mathematical intervals. For example, TIDAL users played more 150 million duplicate TLOP tracks at the same times, down to the very second. How many accounts racked up these fake plays? 1.3 million accounts.
The newspaper interviewed TIDAL users to find out if their stream records matched up. A composer who apparently listened to Lemonade over 50 times called the records “nonsense.” A law student who apparently played Lemonade tracks 180 times in 24 hours also rejected the records. Did an interviewed music critic play TLOP 96 times in 24 hours—with 54 plays in the middle of the night? Nope.
While the fake streams may not seem like a big deal, there’s a more nefarious undertone to these figures: royalty pay-outs. TIDAL paid Sony $2.5 million for streams of Lemonade in April-May 2016, and paid Universal €2 million for TLOP streams in February-March 2016. Those numbers get even worse when compared to total pay-outs for both labels during the same periods: more than $4 million and €3.2 million for Sony and Universal, respectively.
“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,” Tidal said in a statement.
“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.”
Is TIDAL faking streaming numbers to increase their artist pay-outs at the expense of other artists? TIDAL and its representing law firm Reed Smith have challenged the idea, but these reports may say otherwise. It remains to be seen what happens after this story; either way, it’s yet another scandal for TIDAL.