We’ve reached something of a strange place in the music streaming game. Services like Spotify currently run the table, offering a vast library of music for little to no money. Other streaming services like Soundcloud, while controversial in copyright protection and royalty payments, offer up-and-coming artists the ability to get their music out into the world. Just in the last couple of weeks, though, a new player has entered the fray: Jay Z’s Tidal service.
Before we get into the “why” of Tidal, it’s important to go through the “what.” The service is essentially a streaming service that offers two tiers for customers. The first is $20 per month for high-quality audio and access to a library of music from artists like Jay Z, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Jack White, and tons more. The other tier is $10 per month for the same access but with lower-quality audio. The more expensive pricing boasts “lossless audio” for what’s become its main selling point for customers.
So why would you, the consumer, ditch your free Spotify account and head over to Tidal? The simple answer is that you wouldn’t if given the choice. Lossless audio is great if you have a $400 pair of headphones that you use to stream music on a regular basis. But a vast majority of people prefer cheap earbuds or tinny computer speakers, making the difference in sound quality negligible at best.
Then the question becomes something different entirely: Why is Jay-Z calling Tidal “revolutionary”? Well, in some ways, it absolutely is. Just not for anyone who’d be using it to stream music.
To understand what that means, we need to rewind to the bizarre launch party thrown weeks back to break the news. At it, a veritable literati of the music industry’s wealthiest and most successful artists got together to expound upon the merits of Tidal. Jay Z went so far as to dub his service as “the thing that everyone wanted, and that everyone feared.”
This thing that “everyone” wants, though, doesn’t include the average consumer. The biggest aspect of Tidal that sets it apart from other services is its royalty payout to a small sliver of artists. As Tech Radar describes, it’s essentially “taking from the rich and giving to Jay Z’s mates, who happen to also be quite rich.” The rest of their article does no favors for Tidal either:
In short, the way it looks today, Tidal is a terrible proposition. It’s selling snake oil, sharing the profits with the richest artists alone, and the only way it’s going to be able to get market share is by screwing over consumers by withholding catalogues from other services.
The only people who benefit from Tidal are the people selling it. As consumers, we’d be buying into something that established competitors are already offering for free. In this day and age, nobody pays for music, plain and simple. And while that may be unfortunate for some artists, the people actually suffering from that trend aren’t the ones who sat around a table patting themselves on the back for their ingenuity in devising a system that cares little for music fans.
For all we know, Tidal could see major overhauls in the coming days, in the wake of what’s been some heavy criticism. But the sheer amount of ego that’s gone into its creation tells us that’s not a likely scenario. Without that necessary improvement, Tidal could very well find itself dead in the water before it even gets up on its feet.
Getting people to jump off a ship that already has them paying no money for music is a tough sell already. Figure in a platform with the goal of lining the pockets of Jay Z and friends, and it’s safe to say Spotify will have little to worry about in the near future.
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