Jay Z, Beyonce, Madonna and Kanye West were all part of a high profile meeting. And no, it wasn’t an Illuminati meeting.
It was March 30, 2015. I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and I noticed Daft Punk had changed their profile picture to a blue square. So had Usher, and Deadmau5, and Rihanna. What was this all about? The only accompanying information was the tag #TIDALforALL. Something big was about to happen, or so I thought.
I searched for Tidal on the internet to find out what the commotion was all about. What I learnt was that Tidal was actually a music streaming service, offering lossless (richer sounding), CD-quality music, as well as music videos. Being a fan Spotify, I was interested in being able to enjoy a streaming service with greater sounding music, and one that had the support of some of my favourite artists. But wait, how much was it for all of this? $24.00 AUD per month. Twice as much as a Spotify premium subscription. And without high-fidelity sound it’s $12.00 AUD. Like a lot of Spotify users, I saw no reason to move to Tidal because I was settled with a service that costed the same. Since then Tidal haven’t been able to sway me.
On March 31 a press conference was held, starring 16 of some of the biggest musicians including Kanye West, Beyonce and Jay Z, to relaunch Tidal. Jay Z himself is behind the launch, after acquiring the music streaming service and gathering the A-listers to become co-owners in a service they hoped would give all musicians, writers and producers to better share of profits from music sales in the digital market. This has come after criticisms in the industry that music streaming pays artists extremely little, most notably from Taylor Swift who removed her entire music catalogue off Spotify last year. The group at the conference stood awkwardly on stage for 10 minutes while Alicia Keys made big claims like how Tidal would “forever change the course of music history”. After the speeches were done, they all signed a unknown document and the conference was over.
A few months have passed since that launch and Tidal has become a fizzer. The app has fallen out of the App Store top 700 chart and only 900,000 users had subscribed as of last month. It has been widely panned by music commentators as a flop and has been slammed by other musicians. Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, in an interview said “I think they totally blew it by bringing out a bunch of millionaires and billionaires and propping them up onstage and then having them all complain about not being paid”.
This has forced Jay Z to defend the service, saying “Tidal is doing just fine. We have over 770,000 subs. We have been in business less than one month. The iTunes Store wasn’t built in a day. It took Spotify 9 years to be successful… We are here for the long haul. Please give us a chance to grow & get better. There are many big companies that are spending millions on a smear campaign. We are not anti-anyone, we are pro-artist & fan. We made Tidal for fans. We have more than just music. We have video, exclusive concerts, tickets for events early, live sports!… Tidal is where artists can give their fans more without the middlemen”.
While I agree with the principles behind this service, the launch was mishandled for a service with little more to offer in terms of features than its competitors. The press conference portrayed a wrong image by having 16 A-listers on stage together, making it look like a plea for money from wealthy performers. Indie artists should have been the focus instead, as they are a big benefactor of Tidal’s mission. The compensation that artists would receive should have been explained as well. There were no details on how much an artist would receive per stream compared to other services. Tidal was set up by Jay Z as a revolt against low royalty payouts from streaming services like Spotify, so specifics on Tidal’s fair payout would have helped back up his cause.
Tidal doesn’t offer a free tier like Spotify, which will put off a lot of people from using it or considering the paid service. But those keen to support musicians and gain exclusive material can expect to pay $12. Compared to similar streaming apps like Spotify, Tidal’s basic service only has a limited library of exclusive content and music videos, which wouldn’t entice many music listeners. It did debut Rihanna’s American Oxygen and Beyonce’s Die For You, but this isn’t diverse or large enough to make it stand out to music listeners .The $24 subscription would only be attractive to a small market who really value high quality sound, and can afford it.
Tidal has good intentions and it is early days for the company. However, it has set up shop too late to take on established streaming sites like Spotify, and it faces new competition in the shape of Apple Music, due to launch this month. It can’t beat them on price but it does have exclusive content and commercial ethics going for it. It will have to find new ways to attract users if it wants to be successful against these companies. Streaming offers an attractive service to music consumers, who like the unlimited storage, ability to share songs with friends and easily discover new music. Yet in a time where the existence of the internet means people can pirate music easily, Tidal stands for the fair pay of musicians unlike other streaming sites. And after all, it is the indie artists who really need companies like Tidal.