TIDAL’s Creative Director Seb Webber on path of music industry, says the future of streaming ‘is a marathon’
March 30th, 2015 is a date the media has yet to let you forget, and a date you’ll remember for years to come. An ordinary Monday in New York City became the most unordinary day of the year in the world of music. The stage was set at Skylight at Moynihan Station for a press event like none other. There was Usher, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj. Deadmau5, sandwiched between Madonna and Kanye West. Also in costume, Daft Punk. To their left, Beyoncé; to their right, Jack White. Chris Martin and Calvin Harris, present via telecast. Near center, suited in signature all-black, Jay Z. This wasn’t a festival, nor was it a dream. This was the introduction of TIDAL, the newly relaunched streaming service promising high fidelity sound quality and an overdue repositioning of music as a product.
You already know the faces of TIDAL. Over a dozen of the planet’s most influential figures; Beyoncé, Coldplay, Alicia Keys. You know them, you know their stories. But there are minds behind TIDAL who haven’t headlined arenas, who haven’t won Grammys, who weren’t standing on stage during that Monday afternoon in March. There are stars of TIDAL who aren’t part of the group commonly referred to as “the stars of TIDAL.” That’s why we want you to meet Seb Webber.
Seb Webber is the Creative Director of TIDAL, a title he’s owned officially for just over one month. His involvement in the music industry and creative endeavors, however, can be traced back well over ten years ago.
From London’s DJ scene to the American music market; from entertainment’s ground-level to Forbes’ “30 Under 30”; from mailroom beginnings to a newfound position at Jay Z’s latest enterprise. From afar, Webber’s story appears to have a storybook-like narrative. From within, the intricacies must be told in an honest music industry tale. Early on, involved with A&R at XL Recordings, Seb worked on projects from M.I.A. to Adele. He founded his own ticketing company at a time when the market was in need of innovation, and exited at a multi-million dollar valuation. He’s worked with some of dance music’s biggest stars — Ferry Corsten, Markus Schulz, Rusko, to name a few. The legendary duo Deep Dish? Seb’s artists too. Leona Lewis? That’s his work as well. Giorgio Moroder, back at it decades after dominating disco? You guessed it, Webber again.
We spoke to Mr. Webber about all of the above; a conversation focusing on the journey, touching upon the highs, acknowledging the hard lifting, and finally getting into the world of streaming and his next move as TIDAL’s Creative Director.
On A&R years:
How did you get your feet wet in the music industry and which of those first projects helped shaped your career?
I started in the mail room at XL Recordings at 17. Mailing out Lemon Jelly and Basement Jaxx records. It was brutal. I think the move to LA at 24 was the biggest. It was all a bit of a blur, I was very lucky to work with some really talented musicians and incredible records. Highlights would obviously be Adele and M.I.A.
What would you say are your rules/philosophies to live by when being involved in A&R?
You can’t dress up a song. If its a strong song with just a piano and voice. It can be evolved to add other instrumentation. The Instrumentation can next over power the written message. To me, a song is based on looking at “whats Not there” and allowing the space in song do the talking. Space in musical composition is incredibly important.
On founding a ticketing company:
What was the area of ticketing like at the time you entered it?
F*cked up. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t cool.
How did you evolve with CrowdSurge during your time there?
Matt Jones and I started the company. We had no idea what we were doing. When I moved to LA, I transitioned out from an operational role. Matt’s a genius. From what I hear the company is doing really well with a billizon employees and offices all around the world. Its pretty cool to know its grown to something so big, especially when we started it we didn’t have enough money to even go to the concerts! haha.
On management years:
What was the learning curve like transitioning into management, and what goes into your everyday responsibilities of managing a variety of artists?
Pretty easy. I’m a creative control freak. I enjoy the energy, the constant movement, the constant grind. It’s not for everyone. I defiantly am stronger at other areas management than the entire thing. It’s all about having a great team and knowing your strongest lane.
Relationships being important in that space, which of yours were critical during this time?
With management I have a very special partnership with Bruce Eskowitz. He’s the most professional and hard working person i’ve met. His guidance and support has been essential to my professional growth. He is very important to me.
Your most prolific endeavors aside, what other areas of the entertainment industry have you dipped into?
I have a label in Canada with Universal. Because i like Canada and it’s a strong touring market, so it made sense to start something to support touring up there. It’s called FMLY and we do some cool artists. I have some other investments too, mostly in tech.
How was TIDAL initially pitched to you, and where did you see that concept as well as the streaming market as a whole at the time?
My friend and mentor Dave bought me into the project pretty early. Dave and I have solid way of working. He’s super creative too and we just decided to dig in and help with the cause. Dave has incredible foresight and thinks BIG. I became official there last month. It’s a very exciting company to be part of. There’s something underdog about it, it’s a small team, it’s creative, there’s no rule book. That’s the fun bit.
As for the market, Streaming is a young young young young business. Most of the world doesn’t even know about it, what it means, and what you can do with it. Thats why it’s exciting. That’s why I’m involved. My opinion is that there’s room for everyone. But if you treat artists fairly, honestly and transparently – you’ll win. Breaking artists is really exciting to me, the rise before the peak is when it’s truly magical.
Making the early life decision to be an artist, to take that jump, to ignore the odds of success and constantly believe in yourself – that takes courage. To not live with a constant paycheck, to play to empty venues, and keep grinding, keep believing. I mean, that deserves respect. And if we can help support those in that early stage and we help them get just one more stream and one more believer. Then I can go home happy.
Moving forward, what key initiatives will you be taking on as Creative Director at TIDAL and what are your goals for it as the next competitive streaming platform?
I can’t speak for everyone but this is a marathon — not a sprint. Quality is of the upmost importance to us. That goes for all forms of content. Quality and the experience that brings you closer to the music.