Jay Z recently relaunched Tidal, the music streaming service he acquired in March 2015. His plan is to entice people away from Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, and the host of other similar services already available, but he stands absolutely no chance of doing so.
There are some serious problems with Tidal, not least of which is the way Jay Z is selling it to us as being a good thing for musicians. Musicians like him. Do we care about musicians? Should we care about musicians? Tidal has 99 problems, and the pitch is one.
Tidal is a small music streaming service formerly owned by Swedish company Aspiro. Jay Z acquired Aspiro for $56 million, giving him ownership of both Tidal and WiMP. While the future of WiMP isn’t clear, Jay Z has big plans for Tidal.
Three weeks after acquiring the already existing service, Jay Z relaunched Tidal with help from his wife Beyoncé and some of their fellow superstar musicians. The hashtag #TIDALforALL trended around the world, and the service received considerable press coverage in the days that followed.
If Tidal walked up w their 16 stars x 16 unknowns and said “we’re doing this for them, not us.” The internet would’ve embraced them.
— scott vener (@brokemogul) April 1, 2015
Tidal offers a catalog of streaming music similar, but slightly smaller, in size as Spotify and the like. There are two subscription tiers to choose from: $9.99-per-month for standard definition music, and $19.99-per-month for high definition music. There is no free tier, but there is a 30-day trial for those interested in trying Tidal on for size.
Those are the basic facts about Tidal. But what follows are the many and varied problems with Tidal that will, I suspect, ultimately lead to it failing spectacularly.
To gain the maximum publicity for Tidal, Jay Z held a star-studded event attended by some of his fellow musicians. Thus, we had the pleasure of seeing the likes of Madonna, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Jack White, Rihanna, and Chris Martin all pledging allegiance to Tidal. Literally pledging allegiance, as they all signed a declaration of some kind.
The problem is they’re all already massively rich and successful. If you want to persuade people that Tidal is some kind of revolution aimed at giving the power back to the musicians, don’t invite a host of already successful artists on stage who are collectively worth billions of dollars.
I’ve read as many articles as I can on TIDAL.Even watched that weirdo press conference. But heck I just can’t figure out how it benefits ME?
— Garbage (@garbage) April 2, 2015
Jay Z would have been better off inviting up-and-coming musicians, who haven’t yet got record deals, or who are struggling to find gigs. That would have suggested Tidal is being run by and for musicians, and not by and for a rich cabal of artists who don’t need another revenue stream to pay rent.
Everybody understands that the rise of streaming is a bitter pill for some in the music industry to swallow. But the supposedly low rates offered by Spotify et al aren’t affecting Jay Z and his happy mob of millionaire musicians. Which makes the whole thing a disingenuous farce.
All products and services should live and die by the experience of using them. So it’s only fair to give Tidal a chance to impress. It’s certainly not a bad music streaming service, but it offers nothing over and above the ordinary which you can get from countless other alternatives.
Tidal’s big selling point is, supposedly, the high fidelity audio. While higher quality streams aren’t a bad thing, most people won’t even be able to tell the difference. And the minority that can tell the difference will have to pay through the nose for the pleasure.
Tidal has just two subscription tiers, and neither is free. Prices start at $9.99-per-month, which pays for the standard definition audio quality already offered by most of the competition. There is also a $19.99-per-month tier, which pays for the high definition audio quality.
Jay Z claims that these prices mean Tidal will be offering higher royalty rates to artists, which is no bad thing. But that only works if people use the service, which they’re much less likely to do thanks to the barrier to entry created by removing any option to listen for free.
The Long Game
Streaming IS the future of music. But it’s destined to be a long struggle persuading people to switch from buying and owning music to streaming music as and when they want. And the free tier offered by the well-established streaming music services is crucial for enabling that transition to take place.
Spotify, to use the current market leader as an example, has built slowly, launching in a select few countries at a time, and offering free options to anyone who isn’t yet ready to pay for the privilege of streaming. This has enabled it to build an userbase of 60 million people, 15 million of them are now happy to pay for the privilege.
We have mentioned the competition throughout this piece for the simple reason that they are the biggest problem facing Tidal right now. Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, and Pandora are all bigger, better, and more established than Jay Z’s vanity project. And none of them come with the pretentious douchebaggery that was on show at the launch of Tidal.
To succeed, Tidal needs to not only persuade virgin streamers to sign up for a subscription, but also persuade veteran streamers to switch from their current service of choice. Which will require a lot more than a few exclusive tracks from a few select artists. Especially when Spotify is adding 20,000 new tracks to the service every single day.
The rise of streaming services does not represent the end of the music industry in any way, shape, or form. It’s an evolution, and one that could, if handled correctly, be the best weapon in the ongoing fight against music piracy.
Jay Z and his crew may not be happy with the royalty rates currently on offer, but even a few cents per play is better than nothing. Which is all any artist or record label will get if they push people into piracy.
Tidal seems doomed to fail right from the off. The pitch rightly generated a slew of negative reactions, very few people desire the lossless audio that’s supposed to be a game-changer (even fewer when they’re being asked to pay extra for it), and the competition has years of experience and growth on their side.
Far from being a revolution set to make waves in the music industry, Tidal is an unoriginal idea designed to help rich musicians get richer, and screw everyone else. So, with that in mind, I’ll be sticking with Spotify. How about you?