Sources tell me that a few days before the Grammy Awards in February, the rap entrepreneur (real name Shawn Carter) hosted a group of music superstars at an all day meeting. The guests were like a meeting of the music version of the Avengers or Justice League of America.
They included Madonna, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Nikki Minaj, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Jack White and of course, wife Beyonce. “Rihanna came in at the end,” one source said. “They all kept saying, Where is Rihanna?” At least two country music stars attended as well.
The subject was how they could turn Aspiro — which will be known in the U.S. as TidalHifi (@tidalhifi) when it relaunches– into a streaming music and video service akin to the old United Artists pictures, in which artists would actually profit from their art and put out quality material.
In 1919, a handful of movie stars– Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks-- and director D.W. Griffith– banded together and started their own studio to combat what they saw as growing commercialism of the majors. I’m told that Jay Z, who can be a bit of a visionary, sees his new service just this way.
Jay Z, according to my sources, chose The Fig House, an out of the way event space in northeast Los Angeles near Pasadena so that his top tier guests would go undetected by press.
In addition to the stars there were some music execs, lawyers, and a few assistants. The total group of non stars, I’m told, numbered about 20. Many of them were from RocNation, Jay Z’s company. Jay Z’s reps declined to comment.
Jay Z’s purchase of Aspiro for $56 million was finalized in Sweden on Wednesday. A formal announcement is expected as early as Friday (3/13) morning. TidalHifi is appealing to Jay Z because it’s a streaming service completely in place, and operational in the U.S. with 25 million high def digital or “lossless” tracks– much like HDTracks.com. The tracks would be playable on Sony’s Walkman A17 or Neil Young’s Pono player among others.
Jay Z– who’s using the corporate name Project Panther Bidco Ltd– is obviously after something here along the lines of Spotify, Pandora, iTunes’ Beats Music, and so on. Right now, Aspiro offers high def digital music to its customers. In the U.S. subscriptions are $19.99 a month.In the Panther prospectus, there’s a lot of discussion of international expansion of global operations and “upscaling” of Aspiro operations.
But I’m told the discussion at the Fig was more about videos, artists rights, and how music has been diminished by crass commercialism. The Daft Punk robots are said to have made the most persuasive comments on these subjects. Tidal is going to be big on curated editorial. These artists could be involved in the editorial side, too.
The meeting was pretty lively, I’m told. Kanye West can’t calm down even among friends. “Kanye,” says an onlooker, “is out of control. He blurts things out. Jay Z kept him by his side and joked that he was his ‘interpreter’.”
What all this means for this group of artists is still unclear. Madonna isn’t signed to a record label per se. But most of these people are signed to Universal Music Group, which owns Vevo video service with Sony and Google. Plus, many of them are friendly with Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, who are now billionaires invested in Beats Music and Apple. A lot of loyalties may be divided soon.
But the endless battles between artists and Spotify and other digital services that pay low royalties may take a turn if Jay Z and friends can make inroads. Stay tuned…
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News. He writes for Parade magazine and has written for Details, Vogue, the New York Times, Post, and Daily News and many other publications. He is the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals.