Let’s get this out of the way–no I’m not a shill for Jay Z and the establishment nor do I have any personal stakes in this article. With that said, I feel that this article is important for the future of the music industry and in how we hear and support our musicians.
Okay, now that that’s off my chest, let’s get into the heart of the issue. Tidal is a music streaming service, first launched by a Norwegian/Swedish company called Aspiro. The music platform was first known as WiMP (talk about an unfortunate acronym) but changed to Tidal when Jay Z purchased the service in 2015.
Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably saw the footage of the relaunch of the service. You know, the one where all of the industry’s biggest artists were paraded on stage to the disgust of music lovers everywhere. If not take a look:
The pitch for the service was that this new platform would put money back in the artist’s pockets. They claimed they would be the highest paying music streaming service, a claim that hasn’t been proven, but no doubt has drawn in a plethora of musicians (as of this publication date, Tidal has 40 million songs, compared to 30 million on Spotify and a woeful 1 million on Amazon Prime).
All of this may sound grand, but the problem is that there has been a big shrug of indifference among audiophiles who are unwilling to leave the giant that is Spotify.
Part of the issue is that Tidal is still a new service and has some bugs that comes with being a startup. For instance, when playing tracks from albums, there will be a noticeable pause at the end of songs that can be a little annoying, especially when listening to songs that carryover onto the next song. I found this easy to get over, but was extremely frustrated when trying to listen to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
The biggest draw for the company is their $19.99 monthly subscription plan that allows users to stream music at CD quality sound. I won’t get in the technical details, but this is something that Spotify, Amazon, and Apple Music don’t offer. The problem is, most audiences won’t need this service. Most casual music listeners, aka most Spotify users, won’t notice the quality difference. Moreover, most listener’s won’t have the proper headphones and other equipment to notice.
The other problem with the service has to do with its image. While Jay Z and his super-friends meant well when they earnestly said artists would get paid more, they didn’t consider the PR move and how showing rich people wanting to get paid more would go over on the general public. Part of this viewpoint is a little unfair. As Jack White has pointed out in a q & a, the intent is to support artists that don’t get radio play nor fair royalties from other services (This has been a big complaint against Spotify, big enough that Taylor Swift withdrew all of her music from the service.) Perhaps the company made a mistake in giving stocks for the company to the 1% of the music industry, but their heart was in the right place.
By this point you’re probably asking yourself why the hell would you want to consider this glitchy and pretentious service. I’m not going to try to sugarcoat what the company is. But I do think it’s fair to ask you to reconsider your position on the company’s image. In an age where people can torrent every song known to man, there really is a problem when musicians, and more specifically the little guys, aren’t getting paid for their work. It’s a problem every artist faces–how much should they sacrifice for their art in the face of diminishing returns in regards to their pay.
To wit, this isn’t an attempt to guilt trip you into buying into this mindset (alright, maybe it is), but I think every consumer of art in general should think about how these musicians make a living. Keep in mind, some of the small guys are working second jobs just to get by. To make a libertarian argument, we should pay for the stuff we want to support.
If that isn’t enough to convince you, the good news is that Tidal has recently introduced a $9.99 monthly subscription plan that is comparable to Spotify’s. You won’t get the superb quality of music as the premium subscription, but you will still get access to the ridiculous library of music. More so, Tidal has a huge selection of music videos and allows you to save albums’s to your own collection. Basically, it has everything that Spotify has to offer.
Another big draw for the company is that it features exclusive content by musicians. The most recent example was the drop of Kanye West’s new album Life of Pablo that could only be heard on the Tidal. The album has since been launched on other services, but I expect in the more artists to leave Spotify if the future–just as Taylor Swift has–and release their music on services that actually give a shit about paying their artists a fair wage.
Yes, the services has some minor technical issues, but keep in mind that Spotify had the same issues when it was launched. On the upside, the service will only get better as time goes on and it gains a larger subscription base.
Which is why I ask you, dear reader, to check out the service. As with every new startup, the service needs users to help it grow. And if you’re on the fence about it, Tidal is currently offering a free 30 day trial that can be cancelled before being charged.
And honestly, that was enough to convince me to get on board. Yes, none of this may affect you. Perhaps you’re content with Spotify. Perhaps you can feel no guilt while downloading the complete discography of Neil Young for the affordable payment of $0. Fair enough. I won’t get into the legal issues of torrenting, but I will ask you to reconsider how we consume art. Do we expect musicians to just give away their music for pennies, or do we value music enough to see the little guys get a chance to create more music?
It may not affect you, but down the pipeline it does affect the musicians. Yes, every artist music sacrifice for their art. The least we can do is compensate them for their efforts.