It’s been just over two weeks since Jay Z launched his new streaming service Tidal. The Roc Nation president made the surprise announcement with a little help from his friends, including Madonna, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Jack White, Nicki Minaj and of course, wife Beyonce.
In addition to the star power, there are a few other features Tidal boasts that sets itself apart from competitors. For a much higher price than other streaming services, Tidal promises the best hifi sound, a feature that will really only be applicable to audiophiles with the best headphones and speakers on the market aka not the earbuds that came with your iPhone.
Tidal also features playlists curated by some of today’s biggest musicians, as well as exclusive music videos and catalogs, most notably from Taylor Swift, who famously pulled her music from Spotify after the release of her latest album 1989.
We’ve played around with Tidal quite a bit and while the bonus playlists are a cool feature, the high quality stream is continuously being interrupted by a lag in loading and exclusives, like Rihanna’s American Oxygen video, were on YouTube shortly after being posted on Tidal.
Although we have yet to see the new service in its full operating capacity, a big part of Tidal’s identity, most notably higher payouts for artists, is already in effect. Tidal boasts higher percentages paid to artists when their music is streamed on its service as opposed to Spotify or even when songs and albums are purchased on iTunes. This is not only important for artists, but for the people behind the scenes as well.
As Jay Z told Billboard, “For someone like me, I can go on tour. But what about the people working on the record, the content creators and not just the artists? If they’re not being compensated properly, then I think we’ll lose some writers and producers and people like that who depend on fair trade. Some would probably have to take another job, and I think we’ll lose some great writers in the process.”
It would be difficult to find anyone that disagrees with that logic. People getting a fair share of the money made off something they created? Sounds great! But even with some of the most successful artists in the world supporting Tidal, it’s not without its critics.
Mumford and Sons have recently spoken out about the streaming service, most notably taking aim at the exclusivity involved in Tidal’s offerings and the lack of a free option. Marcus Mumford told The Guardian “We just want to play music, and I don’t want to align myself with Spotify, Beats, Tidal, or whatever. We want people to listen to our music in their most comfortable way, and if they’re not up for paying for it, I don’t really care.”
The surprise launch of Tidal arrived on March 30 with a video and press conference featuring some of the biggest artists in the world, a fact that was not lost on many people, including Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard.
Gibbard pointed out what many of us thought when we saw the line up of artists representing billions of dollars in sales on the Tidal stage. “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,” said Gibbard in a recent interview with The Daily Beast.
“There was a wonderful opportunity squandered to highlight what this service would mean for artists who are struggling and to make a plea to people’s hearts and pocketbooks to pay a little more for this service that was going to pay these artists a more reasonable streaming rate and they didn’t do it. That’s why this thing is going to fail miserably.”
Would as much attention have been paid if Daft Punk had been replaced with a small, independent musician during the highly publicized press conference? Maybe not. Or maybe a more well-rounded representation of what a musician looks like in 2015 would have slowed critics who came out swinging as soon as a group of millions began to cry poor.
There’s also the fact that the artists on the stage don’t accurately represent most musicians and the amount of control they can exact over their careers and their recordings. Jay Z owns his masters and was able to pull his music off Spotify this month. Aside from the artists from the Tidal press conference and Taylor Swift, all who have a considerable amount of control over their careers, most bands won’t be able to pull their music from other ventures either because of label agreements or fear of a lose of revenues and visibility.
Our main concern with Tidal isn’t the high cost of the streaming service, or that we’re worried musicians are going to actually be able to make a living (we want that!). Our real concern is that fragmenting the buying and listening process will make it more difficult for music fans to get music.
Think about it this way. The music industry has been on an upward climb towards making music more accessible in the past 20 years thanks to Napster, online viewing and streaming on sites like Much, MTV and YouTube, downloading albums through iTunes, and most recently streaming services. Pushing an agenda of exclusivity with Tidal and making musicians choose whether to make their music easily accessible in a number of places like Rdio, iTunes and Amazon, versus making more money on streams but forcing their fans to get a Tidal membership, lays out a difficult choice. Will we soon have to choose whether to subscribe to Tidal if we want to hear the new Rihanna album?
Suddenly we find ourselves longing for the Discman days.