What is Tidal?

Long story short: it’s a subscription-based music streaming service, kind of like Spotify.

What’s Jay-Z have to do with it?

Well he’s got a ton of money, so a little while ago, he purchased a floundering streaming service, rebranded it, tooled with it, tapped a bunch of huge artists to invest in it, and re-released it into the wild yesterday. He’s mostly the majority investor and figure head. No one brings hype to a product launch like a Jay-Z press conference.

Wait, so Jay-Z and a bunch of other artists… own it?

Kinda. They’re investors, mostly. Chris Martin, Rihanna, Kanye, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Alicia Keys, Jason Aldean, Daft Punk, Arcade Fire, Deadmau5, and of course, Beyonce are just some of the most prominent names of musician share holders.

Haven’t artists been complaining about how little money they make from streaming services? Why would they want to start a new one?

Great question. Tidal reportedly has a similar pay structure to services like Spotify, but the payout rates will allegedly be higher. Though, it’s not known how much higher.

Great, so with this whole, For Artists, By Artists thing, musicians all over the place are probably pretty stoked about this, right?

Well… not so much. You ever see a political ad where the guy running for office tries to play it off like he’s just your average Joe. He’s just like you and his priorities are just like yours, so vote for him! Except that this “average Joe” politician has a bunch of vacation homes, went to ritzy private schools, has several fancy cars, and his dad owns half the companies in the city? It’s kind of like that. This service is definitely by artists. But they’re artists who already have a crap ton of money, and have made an investment in the hopes that this business venture will be profitable. That is to say, they’re making money off of this service and all of the other artists who have music available on the service.

See how these waters get a little murky?

Some artists have already lashed out at these investors saying the investing artists are just another hand to feed – another middle man between the artist and the fans, profiting from music that they had nothing to do with.

Hmm… okay. Well, let’s cut to the chase. I’m your average music fan. Should I sign up for Tidal?

Sure, why not? You can start a free 30-day trial any time!

Okay that’s not really what I meant, you tool.

Sorry…

I meant, what’s the difference between this and, Spotify or Rdio? What does Tidal have to offer that makes it worth my money?

Gotcha. You’re right, I’m a tool.

Honestly, for the average music fan, I don’t believe there’s a huge difference. For $10/month, you can have unlimited access to their catalog via mobile or web, including, like Spotify, offline modes, playlists, radio features, etc. One big difference is Tidal offers music videos. Because apparently those still exist and are relevant for some reason.

Though, after playing with the interface a little bit over the last 24 hours or so, I have to say I prefer the design to Spotify, especially mobile. So user-friendliness (is that a thing) may make a difference to you.

Does it have a free version, like Spotify?

No. That’s one major difference between Tidal and Spotify. Whereas Spotify has a free option, where you can listen to lower quality streams interrupted by advertisements, Tidal offers higher quality and no advertisements, but starts at $10/month.

I thought I read somewhere that they have another option where for $20/month they also have a feature where you can get AFLAC, what’s that all about?

AFLAC? The insurance? With the duck?? What the hell are you talking about?

I’m not totally sure, don’t yell at me.

Are you talking about FLAC?

…Maybe.

I think you’re talking about FLAC. Let’s go with FLAC.

Basically, while the MP3 file format for music is great because of its small file size, the format lacks anything resembling the high quality sound of a FLAC file. In order to save space, the file size is compressed, and you actually lose some of the original music. FLAC is known as “lossless.” In fact, it stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. Because the more you know…

Tidal offers two tiers of their service: $10/month for standard streaming quality or $20/month for Hi-Fi (FLAC) streaming. (Should also be noted that FLAC playback is only available through the google chrome browser.)

Ooh! That sounds fun! How big of a difference does that make?

Honestly, if in 2015 you still have never heard of FLAC, then it probably won’t make a huge difference to you, especially if you’re listening through computer speakers or a set of headphones that cost less than $100. If you’ve got a nice set of Bose headphones or a decent receiver and speakers, you’ll likely notice a difference. And if you have beats headphones, go soak your head.

Harsh… so is that the only difference?

No. Remember how this thing is part owned by artists?

Yeah.

Well part of the deals with those artists is that in exchange for shares in the company, these artists are expected to supply exclusive content. That is to say, we will sometime soon see cases of music by these artists being made available only through Tidal… at least for a period of time.

So in the future, if I want to hear the latest Beyonce track, I may need to be a Tidal subscriber?

Yep. In fact, Billboard already found some exclusive content.

Wow.

Yep.

That’s a pretty big change.

Yeah… in retrospect I feel like maybe I should have led with that.

In retrospect, is it getting weird having a dialogue with yourself, too?

Not really… you’d be surprised how often this happens in my own head.

I wouldn’t, actually. You know… since I’m you.

Okay, now it’s getting weird.

Yeah let’s move on.

So it actually sounds like Tidal could be a real game changer. They’re differentiating themselves by targeting music fans who will pay more money to have the option for higher quality music, and by offering exclusive content from premier artists.

You’re catching on. This is a huge game changer. Not to say that changes like these weren’t coming anyway. Tidal was just the first to come to the market as such. Whether the service as it stands now is successful long term or not is still up in the air, but it’s definitely the start of a new wave (pardon the pun) of differentiated services.

Their strategy is a little bold, though. See, a lot of music listeners who need higher quality music are already paying for it, one way or another. Will these audiophiles see the value in becoming Tidal customers? Maybe. Will music fans currently not paying for music see the value in the $10/month? Maybe. Will music fans already paying $10/month somewhere else see the value in switching? Not sure. There are a lot of questions here.

I’m no economist, but my understanding is that the more options a consumer has, the better it is for the consumers. iTunes will soon be launching its own subscription based streaming service that will reportedly also lack a free option. My guess is we’ll start to see more and more options that encourage fans to pay for music again, one way or another. For more on that, read my previous article here.

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2 comments

  1. Great article but I don’t agree with this: “the more options a consumer has, the better it is for the consumers.”. In an ideal world all music would be available through 1 service with high quality.
    If one needs multiple subscriptions to be able to listen to all music this will surely leads to piracy… again.

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    1. Peter, thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. I didn’t quite mean that the more options a consumer has, the better is is for the consumers in the sense that I think there should be different streaming services that offer different, exclusive music. I personally think the odds of a future where I have to subscribe to three different services just to get access to the variety of artists I like is very unlikely. As I pointed out in the article, though, there are a number of ways services can differentiate themselves other than through content – like pricing structure and streaming quality. I think these are the two most likely ways services will differentiate themselves. I think in the future we’ll see different prices for different quality (we’re already seeing it) and different pricing structures for different subscription lengths (pay as you go, pay for a day/week/month etc.) or for amount of data streamed (ever gb streamed is $X accrued monthly). In this sense, having these kinds of option (with the same or similar content) is going to be the way these services can all thrive, share the marketplace, AND get the public to pay for the music they listen to again. And really, that’s the most important thing. Fair compensation for artists, and fair prices for consumers.

      Like

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