How Hip-Hop Podcasts Will Adapt in the Streaming Era

Streaming services and media companies both want the next big hip-hop podcast, but creators need to be smart about which type of company to partner with.

Vince Staples, Joey Bada$$, Nastee, and Styles P on Tidal’s short-lived 47 Minutes podcast (via Tidal)

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A few weeks ago, I made a 2019 prediction for Synchtank on podcasting in hip-hop:

“Next year, I expect more hip-hop artists to try and launch their own podcasts. A lot of rappers are eyeing the media presence that Joe Budden has built. His partnerships with Spotify and Revolt have proved that there’s money to be made. A lot of older rappers have still got something to say, and a podcast gives them another channel to reach the masses.

NBA stars are slightly ahead of the game in podcasts. CJ McCollum, Vince Carter, and JJ Redick all have their own podcasts that release weekly. Rappers and basketball players have always had an eye on each other’s moves. It’s only a matter of time until more of rap’s elder statesmen join the game.”

The Joe Budden Podcast is riding a wave that keeps getting stronger. Last year, Spotify acquired the serialized music podcast Dissect, relaunched Microphone Check with Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, and several other hip-hop shows. In 2017, Tidal launched and acquired five new podcasts, including Rap Radar. The streaming company has since started newer shows like Memphis Bleek’s D’Usse Party, Fat Joe’s Coca Vision, and Joey BadA$$’ 47 Minutes.

Media companies and podcast networks have gotten involved too. Gimlet Media and Loud Speakers Network co-produced Mogul, a podcast about the life of the late music executive Chris Lighty. Loud Speakers Network is also home to The Read, Brilliant Idiots and other shows. Genius, Complex, and Revolt have bolstered their podcast and video content as well.

Before long, rappers may have more offers for podcast deals than record deals. But artists need to evaluate these podcast deals with the same diligence they evaluate record labels, managers, and other business partners. Streaming services and media companies each bring different strengths to the table.

With all the data streaming companies have on subscriber listening habits, they can present your favorite rapper with a data-driven proposal to launch a podcast on their platforms.


Streaming companies have the data, but media companies have reach

Tidal and Spotify’s interest in podcasts is well documented: no royalties to pay out, no record labels to deal with, and therefore, higher profit margins. Spotify’s CFO Barry McCarthy confirmed this is an interview with Music Business Worldwide. “The bigger the percentage of [podcast content in our] mix, the bigger the margin opportunity to be had.” According to Billboard, hip-hop accounts for 30% of all U.S. music streams, twice as high as any other genre. Spotify and Tidal naturally focus on hip-hop podcasts to keep its audience engaged on the platform.

With all the data streaming companies have on their subscriber’s listening habits, they can present your favorite rapper with a data-driven proposal to launch a podcast on their platforms.

For instance, The Joe Budden Podcast is popular in Los Angeles. The New York rapper-turned-pundit has built a nationwide following, but some of his west coast fans may acquiesce to the show’s east coast slant. This audience would probably enjoy a hip-hop show from someone who doesn’t say “deadass” or “facts, B.” Spotify has the stats to make compelling pitch decks to a shortlist of rappers who fit the bill.

The streaming companies also have big checks to make these proposals harder to turn down. Spotify signed comedian Amy Schumer to a $1 million deal for her podcast. The Joe Budden Podcast-Spotify deal amount is not public, but given Schumer’s offer and the traction Budden has gained in hip-hop media, it was likely a seven-figure partnership.

If Spotify can report on random data like this, it can easily present a prospective rapper-turned-podcaster with data-driven expectations on how well their podcast would perform in different markets (via The Drum)


While streaming companies have the data and dollars to make their competitors jealous, they are limited on distribution. Spotify and Tidal’s exclusive podcasts are released on their platforms first. They use a “windowing” strategy to release content elsewhere after a few days, but the gap in availability is a challenge. Streaming services are still small players in the podcast landscape. Apple Podcasts still account for over 90% of all podcast downloads.

This is where podcast networks and media companies shine. Their content is widely available instantly on Apple Podcasts, YouTube, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and anywhere else you find podcasts. And for a semi-weekly or daily hip-hop show that follows the 24-hour news cycle, timing and availability are crucial.

Additionally, traditional podcasts networks and media companies are designed to develop talent. Their editorial heads prioritize curation to support writers, producers, and podcasters. While both Spotify and Tidal also have established editorial oversight for content, it’s different. To date, the streaming companies tend to have a do-it-yourself approach to podcasts. Spotify for Podcasters is a self-guided experience, not a high-touch support model.

Media companies still fall short with their limited data. Podcast measurability and other key performance indicators are hard to come by. Sure, these companies can analyze download counts, but that pales in comparison to a streaming service’s ability to run regressions on when podcast listeners skip ads, listen from start to finish, or increase to 1.5x speed (side note: anything faster than 1.5x is ridiculous. Y’all need to stop).

The barbell effect

These two lanes for potential podcasters—streaming services and media companies—are diametrically opposed strategies. It has led to a “barbell effect” in the podcast industry. Here’s the definition from writer Mathew Ingram:

“If you are super small and super focused and super niche you can succeed, arguably. And if you’re super huge and mass and gigantic and growing quickly, you can succeed. But in the middle, is death.”

Podcast networks and media companies benefit from the huge, mass, gigantic exposure of having their content widely available on Apple Podcasts. Ironically, Spotify and Tidal are on the other side of the barbell. Despite their pursuit to become the “Netflix for Podcasts,” their audience is tiny compared to Apple’s. But streaming companies have the “niche” ability to target prospective listeners with precise pop-ups ads and customized homepages to lure them into a new series.

Dissect, which analyzes critically-acclaimed hip-hop albums like Shakespearean literature, is perfect for Spotify’s end of the barbell. It’s highly-specialized evergreen content that may not appeal to all hip-hop heads, but those that love it are devoted enough to go to Spotify once a new episode is out.

Spotify and Tidal’s place on the barbell may change down the road, but both streaming companies still have a long road to travel until they can catch the distribution of Apple Podcasts.

Navigating the landscape

As the podcast environment evolves, some podcasters will need to re-evaluate their spot on the spectrum. Despite its success, The Joe Budden Podcast is technically on the wrong side of the barbell. It started as a widely-available show with a strong YouTube following and no sponsors. Spotify’s acquisition has forced the passionate YouTube community to wait 48 hours to watch the newest show. By that point, the show’s topics might be old news.

Trapital's Top Five Stories of 2018

Top Five. Top Five. Top Five.

It wouldn’t be hip-hop if we didn’t have a Top Five discussion, right? 

I made a special PDF collection of the Top Five Trapital stories this year. These pieces were read and shared thousands of times, featured on several other newsletters, and written about by other media outlets. We’ve had a number of new readers in the past couple months and many of you might not have read these stories. Now’s your chance!

Sign up for Trapital email newsletter here and you will get an email with a link to the Trapital Top Five special PDF collection (if you are already signed up for the email newsletters, it's in your inbox now). Download it. Read it on your iPad, Kindle, etc. Share with a friend who would enjoy Trapital. Tell them it's a holiday present.

You might have a different Top Five than the ones I chose, so let’s start a discussion!

You can fill out your Trapital Top Five Survey here. I’ll share the Top Five from readers in a few weeks.

Enjoy!
Dan


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Trapital is written by Dan Runcie. Contact me at dan@danruncie.com

How Rihanna Can Use Fenty Beauty To Sell Her Next Album

The sales strategy from Rihanna's cosmetics brand can help guide the rollout strategy for her upcoming reggae album and concert tour.

Rihanna at the Fenty Beauty Launch in 2017 (via Getty Images/Steve Ferdman)
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The Rihanna Navy has become ambivalent. On one hand, they are proud that the singer’s Fenty Beauty cosmetics brand has taken off. The award-winning company reportedly made $100 million in its first 40 days. But the devoted fanbase wants its leader to put out a new album. Rihanna, who once dropped albums every fall like clockwork, has released just one in the past six years.

Some fans have joked that because of Rihanna’s focus on the brand, the forthcoming project will probably be named Fenty Music. Other fans are a bit more brash, calling for a boycott of all Fenty Beauty products to try and strong-arm the 30-year-old singer back in the studio. Despite the recklessness, the Navy should be content. Rihanna’s recent success with Fenty Beauty may set the stage for how to best serve her fans in the long run and avoid past pitfalls.

Next month will be three years since Rihanna dropped ANTI, her latest album. Despite its critical acclaim, the album’s spotlight was dimmed because of a botched rollout and tour stops with thousands of empty seats. It was an unfortunate case study on how distribution challenges can hinder a great body of work.

A few months ago, the “Rude Boy” singer hinted that she would tap into her West Indian roots and drop a reggae album next. Rihanna, her team at Roc Nation, and Tidal will do their best to avoid past issues. They need look at the success of Fenty Beauty and see how best to incorporate that strategy into the upcoming rollout.

Rihanna already has a successful consumer brand on the market that people want. She can bundle Fenty Beauty products with redeemable codes to download her upcoming album.


The power of third parties

Two days before ANTI’s intended “surprise” launch, Tidal accidentally put the album up on its streaming service for a few minutes and quickly took it down. Those few minutes became an eternity—opening the doors for the album to be ripped and shared with the masses. A few hours after the leak, Rihanna and Tidal owned the mistake and made the entire album available (again) for good.

Representatives at Tidal didn’t think the leak hurt at all due to the album’s performance, but that sidesteps the point. Anyone that listened to ANTI outside of Jay Z’s streaming service limited the power of the company’s first-week exclusive rights to the album. It was also an unnecessary distraction that took earned media coverage away from the music.

With the botched release behind them, RiRi’s team had its eyes set on the ANTI World Tour. The 75-show concert was meant to bring the Navy out from regions all over the world. But in certain markets, including London’s 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium, Rihanna performed to “sold-out” shows that were half empty. Bots and scalpers bought all the seats but failed to sell them for marked-up prices, which averaged $227 per ticket. It was another blemish on ANTI’s run.

These issues are distribution challenges that were amplified by third parties. Rihanna and Tidal’s decision to own the album leak was a reminder of the influence that piracy still has in the streaming era. For the concerts, Rihanna’s “customers” weren’t the fans in attendance. The true customers were actually the ticket resellers. Their decision to set high prices meant that Rihanna only played to the wealthiest (or most frivolous) members of the Navy who were willing to pay the high costs and fees on StubHub and SeatGeek.

…That’s a lotta empty seats (via YouTube)

Fenty Beauty has valuable data on Rihanna’s customers

The missed opportunities for ANTI were notable considering how bankable Rihanna’s fanbase is. According to a 2016 study by the NPD Group, the Navy is 3.7 times more likely to buy products from Rihanna than any other celebrity, which is the highest rating that any celebrity has for their followers. Rihanna’s track record in consumer products has confirmed this power. Her perfume Reb’l Fleur and ongoing partnership with Puma have both yielded strong results. It was only a matter of time before she tapped into this again.

With Fenty Beauty, Rihanna infused her personal values in the brand’s DNA. The cosmetics line has been praised for featuring over 40 different shades and skin tones. Her Savage X Fenty lingerie line followed a similar ideal when it featured women of different shapes and sizes in its New York Fashion Week debut.

The benefits are twofold. First, it fulfilled Rihanna’s desire to create products “so that woman everywhere would be included.” She made the products affordable, giving fans that didn’t buy her concert tickets another opportunity to support her. The resounding response and impressive sales confirmed her vision. It also forced the cosmetics industry to step up its game. Since Fenty Beauty launched, other celebrity’s cosmetic lines have been dragged on social media for not having enough shades for women of color.

The second benefit—yet less intentional but still noteworthy—is the consumer data that can be derived from the multiple shades offered. The Fenty Beauty team can conduct analysis on the different shades and infer meaningful customer insights based on race, ethnicity, purchase habits, geography, and other metrics. This is valuable data that Rihanna can leverage for future projects like her upcoming album.

A collection of Fenty Beauty shades (via Glamour/Pinterest)

How Fenty Beauty can boost the upcoming reggae album

A lot has changed in the music industry since ANTI. Streaming exclusives have phased out. Album and ticket bundles have taken their place as the popular trend. But most of these bundles offer products that were made specifically for promotional purposes, like Travis Scott’s Astroworld T-shirts or Nicki Minaj’s Queen posters.

Rihanna already has a successful consumer brand on the market that people want. She can bundle Fenty Beauty products with redeemable codes to download her upcoming album. The timing of Rihanna’s reggae release can be coordinated with the launch of a new line of products.

When she announces her next tour, Rihanna can also offer access to pre-sale concert tickets for Fenty Beauty customers. Instead of offering the more traditional pre-sale access for American Express or Visa cardholders, RiRi can give the first opportunity to her actual supporters. She can use the data on Fenty Beauty customers to match the demographics of her fan base in different markets. This bundle would also drive sales for Sephora, one of the major retailers that sell Fenty Beauty products.

Ticketmaster and others will also urge Rihanna to consider the increasingly-popular slow ticketing strategy for her tour. The polarizing concept gives Ticketmaster Verified Fans the initial opportunity to buy concert tickets at market prices (similar to what would be available on StubHub). While the strategy might limit the secondary market’s impact and give some fans early access, the prices would still be set at the same rates that led to the half-empty Wembley Stadium.

Rihanna can avoid this by using her own data. She can draw enough insights from Fenty Beauty and existing data from Roc Nation and Tidal to target her fans and offer them tickets at affordable prices. This approach would be more aligned with Rihanna’s mindset on how to operate her businesses.

Rihanna at the artwork gallery for ANTI (via Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Rihanna has had too much success in business to play by the traditional rules of the game. She knows that when she drops the reggae album—whether it’s called Fenty Beauty, Bad Gyal Riddim, or R9—the Navy will be ready. She’s currently building an empire. If she leverages its success, she can shape how the rest of the industry approaches the bundling strategy and engages with fans from here on out.

I would like to share another newsletter that I think you should subscribe to: RadReads. Khe Hy does an amazing job of curating quality content focused on careers, productivity, and business (I really appreciated his compelling insights on home ownership vs. renting). Entrepreneurs especially would benefit, as Khe has lived the successful corporate life and navigated the transition to become a solopreneur and content creator.


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Trapital is written by Dan Runcie. Contact me at dan@danruncie.com

Why Roc Nation May Move On From Its Record Label

The entertainment company has hedged its bets for the disruption in the music industry.

The 2018 Roc Nation Pre-Grammys Brunch (via Kevin Mazur/Getty)
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Roc Nation has made recent headlines for nearly every aspect of its business except its record label. Its sports agency, Roc Nation Sports, just signed NBA player Trey Burke. Last week, the ten-year-old entertainment company won its bid to halt an ongoing arbitration case because of a lack of black arbitrators. The company also started a new film and TV division this year. As Roc Nation continues to expand into different sectors, Roc Nation Records has become an afterthought.

The label started off strong when it signed a 24-year-old J. Cole in 2009. At the time, Cole’s trajectory seemed like a validation of Jay Z’s experience from Roc-a-Fella Records and Def Jam. But the label’s track record of developing talent since then has been less-than-stellar. The label is still home to Rihanna, but she was a bonafide star when she joined Roc Nation in 2014. Today, many up-and-coming artists pursue younger record labels, like Quality Control Music, or go independent.

Roc Nation Records still has 24 artists signed to the label, but the sports division has nearly double that number. The music side of the house focuses more on artist management, most recently supporting Mariah Carey’s new album, but many of its managed acts are in the twilight years of their careers.

If trends continue, Roc Nation Records will be more symbolic than it is impactful. The label may soon become a mere vehicle for the 4:44 rapper to drop his own albums and an excuse to host bougie brunches before the Grammys. It’s an inevitable, but logical, outcome based on the management structure that Shawn Carter and Roc Nation CEO Jay Brown built. The business can still thrive regardless of changes in the music industry.

Roc Nation used its record label as an opening to the entertainment industry, the same way that Amazon sold books as its entry into retail.


Roc Nation was built to hedge bets

When Hov left his role as President and CEO of Def Jam in 2007, he grew frustrated by the industry’s age-old business model. He shared his thoughts in an interview with Rolling Stone:

“I told [Def Jam], ‘How about this idea — instead of spending $300 million to break four acts, why don’t you guys give me a credit line, and I’ll just do things. I won’t make music. I’ll go buy some headphones, or buy a clothing line, just be part of the culture.’ But the money scared them off, because they’re not used to thinking in that way.”

Roc Nation was the answer to what Def Jam couldn’t do. The company started as a full-service firm that offered 360 deals, artist management, touring support, and marketing. At this point, Jay had a fairly diverse portfolio of his own entertainment interests. He was part-owner of the then-New Jersey Nets, co-owned the 40/40 Club, and had just sold his stake in Rocawear. He wanted this new company to mirror his mentality.

Jay actually tried to do something similar with his first label, Roc-a-Fella Records, in the early 2000s. Him, Damon Dash, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke started Roc Films as a subsidiary and released cult favorites like Paid in Full and State Property. The expansion was the right mindset, but it wasn’t in the company’s DNA from the jump. And by that point, the relationships between the Roc-a-Fella founders started to fray. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and there was no way for the Roc’s new vision to takeoff when Jay was clearly done with his business partners.

Summer Jam 2001. Jay Z’s face speaks volumes louder than anything his Roc-a-Fella team said in this interview.

When Roc Nation Sports started in 2013, Jay confirmed that the new division was part of the company’s initial plan to extend beyond music. The expansion was timely with changes in the music industry. The once-celebrated 360 deals soon became viewed as a predatory measure to keep artists under the label’s control. New streaming services like Spotify gained steam, causing many record labels—especially those solely focused on music—to yet again re-evaluate their strategy.

The strength in hip-hop and sports

Jay Z and Jay Brown’s decision to start the sports agency under the Roc Nation umbrella, and not as a standalone firm, was critical for two reasons.

First, it strengthened the entire company. Roc Nation partnered with Creative Artists Agency to start the new division. When then-Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and then-New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano signed with Roc Nation Sports early on, there was less pressure for the record label to find the next J. Cole. A star is a star for Roc Nation, whether they are on a basketball court, in a ballpark, or in a recording studio.

Second, the decision signaled the company’s desire to bridge hip-hop and sports. In several interviews, Jay stressed the importance of each division communicating with one another. Roc Nation’s stable of athletes grew up watching these worlds collide in memorable moments like the Allen Iverson and Jadakiss Reebok commercials. Athletes perceive Jay as a channel to these brand-building opportunities because he’s done it himself.

While many rappers view Jay the same light, others still see him as competition. Some of it’s healthy and aspirational, like J. Cole learning from Roc Nation to build Dreamville. But some of it stems from pure envy. Hov shared his frustrations this summer on The Carters’ song “Boss”:

“N—— would rather work for the man than to work with me
Just so they can pretend they on my level, that shit is irking to me
Pride always goeth before the fall, almost certainly”

The more brazen the artist, the more likely they are to fall into that category. Meanwhile, many of Roc Nation artists have accepted that they are better off teaming up with Jay than trying to match him.

Jay Z and Roc Nation CEO Jay Brown (via Complex)

The Amazon strategy

Jay Z and Jay Brown know that their patient approach disappoints young artists. “We take our time. It may not be most popular with artists, especially new ones that wanna come out tomorrow,” Hov told Zane Lowe in a 2013 interview. Jay Brown shared a similar sentiment four months ago in an interview with CEO.com. The Roc Nation mindset is in direct conflict with the SoundCloud Rapper strategy: drop music early and often, get instant feedback, slide into DMs with a link to the song, and hit folks up an hour later if they haven’t responded yet.

Many of Roc Nation’s artists rose to fame in the heyday of record labels. There was no instant gratification back then. These artists are satisfied with Roc Nation’s harvest strategy: maximize revenue until the artist decides to call it quits. Roc Nation still has a few young artists, like Jaden and Willow Smith, but Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s kids don’t face the financial pressure to succeed that their SoundCloud-focused peers do.

A newly-signed group like The Lox knows that they are well past their prime, but Roc Nation can still help them score worthwhile deals. If the company can get Fabolous to perform at the Roc Nation Sports Boxing Match, similar opportunities exist for Jadakiss, Fab’s Friday on Elm Street partner.

Although the company has shifted in priorities, music still served a critical role. Roc Nation used its record label as an opening to the entertainment industry, the same way that Amazon sold books as its entry into retail.

Amazon would have shut its doors years ago if it still relied on revenue from hardcover novels, just as Roc Nation would have struggled if it still banked on 360 deals. Both companies were well-diversified to handle the disruption in their initial industries and moved forward.


Five years from now, many of Roc Nation’s promising athletes— like New York Giants 21-year-old running back Saquon Barkley and Manchester United’s 25-year old Romelu Lukaku—will still be in their prime. Its venture capital firm, Arrive, may have a few exits by then. And the new film and television divisions could have a couple hits by then too. The Roc Nation enterprise is well-positioned for the future.

But it’s hard to see Roc Nation Records expanding further. Many of its marquee artists will be approaching their 50s. All harvest strategies have a natural expiration date. Young rappers will continue to pursue other options to elevate their careers, and the Roc Nation team seems very content with that.

And plus, with the way Jay Z use Twitter, there’s no way in hell he responds to an aspiring rapper who tries to slide into his DMs to get signed.

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Trapital is written by Dan Runcie. Contact me at dan@danruncie.com

P.S. - THANK YOU to everyone who supported the Trapital Product Hunt launch this week! Appreciate it!!

Why Tidal is Banking on Meek Mill's Success

The streaming service hopes to leverage the Philadelphia rapper's comeback and convert his fans into loyal subscribers.

Meek Mill at a Tidal benefit concert (Evan Agostini / Invision/AP)
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When Tidal first announced its promotional offer for Meek Mill’s new album Championships, it sounded like a desperation move. For a mere $3.50, fans can go to Foot Locker and buy a Meek Mill collectors booklet that includes a redeemable code for a six-month trial subscription to Tidal. That’s a $60 value—one of the highest yet for an album bundle. Tidal subscribers also had access to a special pre-sale to buy tickets for the 31-year old rapper’s upcoming Motivation Tour.

The aggressive sales tactic shines a light on the positions that both Meek and Tidal are in. Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first album since his release from prison in April. His trials and tribulations have attracted widespread support, but now it’s time to turn that attention into album sales.

Tidal is seeking its own redemption. Based on recent estimates, the Norwegian-based company has around 3 million subscribers—far less than Apple Music (50 million) and Spotify (83 million). While Tidal’s current subscribers are loyal, growth has stalled. Finding new customers is a glaring priority.

Converting promotion-driven fans into lifelong customers is a tall order for any business, especially one that has faced the public scrutiny that the four-year-old company has. The results of this promotional run may dictate future moves that Tidal makes on its continuous quest for subscriber growth and profitability.

Both Tidal and Meek Mill value hip-hop fans that vote with their dollars. The fans who already support criminal justice reform are more willing to back a company like Tidal that shares its values.


Time for a turnaround

2015 was supposed to be a career-defining year for both Meek Mill and Tidal. That June, Meek dropped his sophomore album Dreams Worth More Than Money. It was Meek’s transition into mainstream rap. With Nicki Minaj on his side, the “All Eyes On You” rapper was destined to elevate his platform and put Philly on his back.

That same year, Jay Z announced the relaunch of Tidal. The Roc Nation founder was destined to win the culture over with an artist-owned platform that offered better sound quality than its competitors. “If these artists can sit in a room together, the game changes forever. And that happened today,” Jay said at the press event.

But 2015 turned ugly fast. Just one month after Meek’s album dropped, Drake released the Grammy-nominated diss track “Back to Back,” turning Meek into a hip-hop punchline. Meanwhile, Tidal quickly went from celebration mode to crisis mode. After the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Jay Z’s launch event, Tidal’s leadership changed hands an embarrassing number of times. Reports showed that the company had massive losses in 2015. Industry experts began to question whether Tidal’s value proposition was enough to compete with Spotify or Apple Music.

The Tidal launch. They low key acted like they signed the Declaration of Independence. (via Tidal)

Three years later, its Meek who has recaptured that same energy. After hitting rock-bottom with his 2017 prison sentence, he gained support from influential friends, national media outlets, and the hip-hop community. Since his release, he’s built a stronger following and generated hype for Championships.

Tidal is still trying to bounce back. In 2016 the company had a big—but allegedly overstated—boost in subscribers from Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and Rihanna’s ANTI. It had another boost this past summer with The Carters’ Everything is Love. But many of these customers left once the 30-day free trial ended or complained on Twitter when they forgot to cancel their membership. Most other music streaming services have long since moved on from the once-popular exclusive album strategy.

The company has since shifted its focus to partnerships. Earlier this year, Tidal launched new deals with mobile carriers in Brazil and Uganda to expand its international footprint. This past month, Tidal also announced partnerships with Microsoft’s app store, Samsung Wearables, and Plex, the multi-media player system. These deals will help Tidal cross-sell to techies and audiophiles who spend money on high-quality technology (and in turn, might consider paying $19.99 / month for lossless sound).

These deals are smart tactics, but Tidal still needs to attract customers that are bought into Jay Z’s mantra of ownership. Consumers buy based on emotion and justify with logic. The ideal Tidal customers are inspired by the opportunity to support the artists, but rationalize their purchase because of the higher sound quality and other features.

When customers segment themselves

Those who back Jay’s mantra are also likely to feel compassion for Meek Mill’s tumultuous journey. Both artists efforts are united on the broader theme of black empowerment. Meek’s resurgence is not just a model for Tidal to replicate. It’s an opportunity for Tidal to continue riding that same wave.

Tidal has doubled down on its support for Meek’s freedom. When Meek served time, Tidal live streamed a conference about the artist’s legal challenges. This October, Meek performed at Tidal’s annual benefit concert for criminal justice reform. With the latest promotion, the streaming service won’t earn any money from the $3.50 booklets from Foot Locker—all proceeds go directly to #REFORM: a movement to liberate one million people unjustly caught in the criminal justice system.

We see you, Meek! (via Mamadi Doumbouya/Vulture)


The Foot Locker promotion, despite its steep cost, may offer Tidal beneficial data on prospective customers. To redeem the six-month subscription, fans have to physically go into a Foot Locker store and have a conversation with the sales associate:

“Hi, I’m good, thanks. Nope, not here for the all red Jordan retro 12s… Can I please get a Meek Mill collector’s booklet?”

It’s a simple task, but it makes a difference. A trial subscriber who walks into a store and asks the cashier for a special item is more likely to remain a customer than someone who quickly redeems a Cyber Monday deal that popped up on a social media timeline.

These efforts—the Foot Locker deal, benefit concerts, live streams— are an easy way for Tidal to segment prospective customers. Both Tidal and Meek value hip-hop fans that vote with their dollars. The fans who already support criminal justice reform are more willing to back a company like Tidal that shares its values. When Tidal starts prioritizing monetization over customer acquisition, these are the subscribers to target first.

Acquiring new customers is expensive. But if Tidal didn’t spend the money on promotions like this, the company’s internal teams would spend more time analyzing trends to identify these same potential subscribers. One way or another, it still a cost the company would have to pay.


If these promotions work well, then Tidal will dedicate more resources toward this strategy. The more of these customers it attracts—at a reasonable cost—the better. Tidal knows it can’t match Spotify and Apple Music’s scale, but it can get profitable by finding more of the right customers.

But if the Meek Mill plan doesn’t work well, Tidal will have to go back to the drawing board, once again, and try new methods to attract the subscribers it needs.

2019 might be another potentially career-defining year for both Meek Mill and Tidal. The outlook is positive for Meek, who has an Amazon docu-series and his concert tour to look forward to. Tidal’s future is less certain, but its safe to say the company won’t host another launch party.

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Trapital is written by Dan Runcie. Contact me at dan@danruncie.com

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