TIDAL is Jigga Man’s newest venture. To consumers, it’s Spotify down to the UI, only it costs more. The stream quality is higher and there’ll be other forms of content, but it’s basically Spotify for audiophiles. TIDAL is about appreciating recording art for more than just background music. It offers HiFi quality audio (1411 kbps), which is over four times higher than the 320 kbps that listeners get from Spotify. It also delivers exclusive content from its artists, which gives paying customers more of an overall experience than those pleb Pandora freemium users. On the other side, musicians can now design their own streaming campaign on the TIDAL platform and then later enjoy 100% more per stream than they’d get from other comparable services. Music fans stream a lot of music for free in modern society but the artists are seeing little money out of it. Creating great music for people to stream doesn’t put money in the pockets of an artist, sales do, whether they be from mechanical CD sales, digital sales, selling tickets on tour or selling merchandise. This new service is intended to curb that discrepancy and enhance the musical experience for everyone involved.
Why TIDAL, And Why Now?
Does this all seem sudden to you? It should. Jay Z just bought TIDAL’s holding company earlier in March for $56 million. Then last week Taylor Swift announced that she’d be putting her music on TIDAL, which was interesting because she famously spoke out against Spotify’s freemium streaming model last November. She seems to really like the idea of physical albums and wants you to enjoy the ethereal, transcendent experience of purchasing her CD. And you can absolutely do that, just head on down to the local Target and buy the deluxe edition of 1989 for $14.99. Back in November she said, “So it’s very much an experience that’s different than downloading the music itself. It’s almost like this kind of collector’s edition, the physical copy.” Her voice was important, because it was first, but TIDAL appears to be much more than the byproduct of an annoyed pop star.
Then on Monday, Usher, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West, Jay Z, J. Cole, Calvin Harris, Chris Martin, Jason Aldean, Jack White, Daft Punk, Beyoncé, Arcade Fire and Alicia Keys showed up one by one. They were all dressed in full costume on TIDAL’s dim lit stage, surrounded by TV’s, ready to vouch for this thing. It was eerie. They were looking like a team of multi-level marketing reps on Halloween up there. Actually, the only thing that differed Monday’s launch from a typical MLM pitch was the lack of a numbers breakdown. Hov’s new service costs $10/month to stream in standard (compressed) format and $20/month to play “lossless” recordings (which we described above). The “enriched experience” comes with both and includes audio, video, editorial content and social media. But direct streaming competitors like Spotify already offer similar services for $10/month and Beats released a near clone of TIDAL just last year. Apple snatched Beats up and is reportedly planning to re-release the streaming service with an $8/month price tag. So is it a coincidence that Jay is trying to “show ‘em how to move in a room full of vultures” so quickly? No. He knows that his “enriched experience,” no matter how eloquently explained by Alicia Keys it was, will have a very difficult time going head to head with Spotify or Apple.
What Does TIDAL Actually Mean For Artists?
TIDAL also unveiled the round table conversation that lead to TIDAL’s declaration signing on Monday. It featured curated video footage from February’s secret meeting — Jay Z, Kanye West, Madonna and others speaking their minds on the concept. It was a powerful moment for us at DXHQ as we watched these icons come together for the purported betterment of the music industry. We found it interesting that Alicia Keys was chosen to deliver the announcement. It wasn’t that she didn’t kill it, it was because she wasn’t the most relevant, best selling, youngest or oldest in the group. It left us wondering why all the talk has been about Hov’ and then we were left hearing from her, while he stood firmly situated between labelmates Kanye West and J. Cole. They all eventually signed a mysterious document, a declaration to “reestablish the value of music and protect the sustainability of the music industry rooted in creativity and expression,” which is now available online.
Jay Z doesn’t have the infrastructure or existing base that the other companies boast, but he does have star power. Proof of that was the 938% increase in Aspiro’s share price on Tuesday. If fan-boy investors had done any research they would’ve known that all of Aspiro’s shares have to be sold back to Jay Z by April 2 for a set price of 1.05 crowns each. Many of them now face losses of 90%. Missed opportunities aside, it’s both good and bad that megastars like Jay Z and Taylor Swift are spearheading this movement. They have clout so people will probably listen to whatever they say. On the other hand, they’re already wealthy, which won’t warrant any sympathy from most listeners, not for twice the cost of Spotify. And as it turns out, TIDAL only pays out 75% of its subscription money while Spotify pays 70% of its total revenue!
@DaRealBW Around 75% of the monthly subscription is passed back to music labels etc who then distribute to artists & songwriters. Best
— TIDAL (@TIDALHiFi) March 31, 2015
That’s not exactly a game changing comparison. The premium tax will go to the labels that will then send a cut of that money back to the artist. TIDAL does pay out double the amount that Spotify does on streams, but if artists are complaining about getting paid pocket change in exchange for millions of streams, doubling that pocket change won’t make much of a difference. These celebrity endorsers own the company, their prime goal here is to get people to use the product, their secondary, to get people to their music. Hov’ isn’t exactly handing out invites to other artists either. TIDAL follows the Step Brothers’ karaoke business model, “If you can’t sing… just sit down.” They’re only looking for “projects with a price between $2,000 and $100,000,” so it’s not exactly a come up for new artists.
Can TIDAL Shift The Power & Has The Web Made Us Devalue Music?
What does it all really mean though? Album sales are declining and streaming units are rising. People don’t buy music like they used to. A recent article on song length cosigns, “Unlike the heyday of Zeppelin, fans won’t just buy the album — they wait for the single, judge, then move on to the next.” People don’t have the time to play a five-minute song anymore either, long records are “rarities surrounded by a sea of short tracks.” Radio songs stay in the three to four minute range as has been tradition for seemingly ever, and while there is no direct correlation between song length and shortening attention spans, it’s hard to believe that the Inter-webs aren’t doing something fuddy-duddy to our brains. It’s completely possible that it’s made us musical zombies, scouring the earth for curated playlists like whiskey flights or pre-fixe dinners at your favorite bourgeoisie establishment. The RIAA even counts streams and single sales towards the certification of an album now to help adapt to this trend.
The Internet has made us both increasingly impatient as well as expectant, consciously or not, of a thoroughly saturated bay of content. Simon P. Anderson, NPR contributor and Director of the Norman Lear Center, would agree “both more attention and more product classes raise the volume of information. Eventually though the attention span effect reduces information volume and increases competition.” In terms of music, that means if more listeners start to look to the Internet for music, while more artists are putting their music online, there’ll be more content to listen to. Attention spans are limited by nature and eventually cap the amount of music we can take in and creates a constant demand for more. Today’s music consumer feels like John Dillinger when Billie Frechette asked him, “What do you want?” They say, “Everything. Right now.” Peter Drucker, Presidential Medal of Freedom winning social ecologist, said in regard to an attention based society, “you realize that information is not in short supply; we’re drowning in it. What’s in short supply is the attention that makes sense of it.” People are still wild over the endless possibilities of the Internet and yet remain pleasantly cool, blissfully ignorant to any psychological effects it could be having. Music people love to swim in this ocean of incredible audio but they might’ve forgotten about who’s making it. Many have become more attached to their music sonically than in the “physical” way that Swift would like. And even with a 52% increase in vinyls this past year, hipster purists only account for 6% of total physical album sales and won’t be reversing this Internet driven free music frenzy anytime soon.
Is TIDAL The Revolution Jay Is Trying To Make It Seem?
On the flipside, paying for services like TIDAL is one way the public can ensure the continued existence of studio recordings. Any mug can make music and release it; essentially all he or she needs is a mic and computer. The problem is that if music continues down this indie trail, the audio quality might dive. For example, an independent vocalist is only one piece of the record pie. He or she then has to pay out of their budget for the beat, recording, mixing, mastering, packaging, marketing, managing, and lawyering and for whatever else they need in the process of making a record. If America takes away record revenue from commercial musicians and keeps streaming for free, mainstream artists might start sounding a little more indie.
In terms of revolution, we aren’t so sure TIDAL is the piece of software that will be changing things forever, but the idea is an interesting one. Artists, no matter how rich, how successful, don’t often sign their own checks. But Jay Z has been a master, thus far, of reversing that wage-slave sort of system to his benefit. From buying back his own masters to Roc Nation Sports, he’s been at the forefront of what it means to be upwardly mobile as an artist. But the roll out of TIDAL does beg a few questions. Will it be a significant help to the indie artist? Or will this be a sort of one percent boulder being thrown into a trickling stream of revenue, further dividing the pot? There’s no doubt music is important, and in our life time, maybe the most important commercially viable artistic endeavour, but does this help anyone but the really rich folks that were up there on that podium?
“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things should be paid for. Valuable things should be paid for,” Taylor Swift also preached. So whether it’s for the artist personally or for the appreciation of their art, buying into these fair trade streaming services are and will continue to be an important component in the future of music. Fair trade, in the realm of recording art, would ensure more that money goes to those involved in content creation and the sustainability of the music industry. For a small monthly fee, services like this give you more musical content and the chance to help distribute more money to the artists and their continued cultivation. So is TIDAL the answer? It may be much too early to call it. But it’s a step towards the fair trade of music. And, maybe, just maybe, another spring board of competition that could help to level out the streaming market.