Jay-Z has claimed that Tidal will revolutionise the music industry but the reality is far less exciting
In the promotional video for Tidal, rapper Jay-Z proclaims, “Change the course of history forever, today”. Throughout the short clip there are similarly haughty sound bites from artists such as Kanye West and Beyoncé. You’d be forgiven for thinking this video was discussing politics or a global crisis over which the artists had united to “take a stand” against. They are, in fact, discussing a new paid-for music streaming service.
Branded as a “music revolution” by the artists involved, the recent launch of Tidal has divided opinion among music fans and industry insiders alike. A company controlled by Jay-Z acquired the music streaming service at the end of 2014 for 56 million dollars from the Scandinavian technology firm Aspiro. It currently boasts over 25 million tracks. With agreements in place in conjunction with major recording labels including Universal and Sony, the service aims to rival existing music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora.
Marketing itself as a service owned by artists, for artists, Tidal’s unique selling point (other than a collection of multi-million dollar owners) is its “lossless” audio quality. In truth, the majority of music listeners do not know what this is. Lossless audio is a superior audio quality and Tidal boasts 1411 kbps compared with, for example, Spotify’s 320 kbps. However, many have noted that the average user will not be able to hear the difference unless they use premium grade audio equipment. Priced at $19.99 a month in the US, and even more at £19.99 in the UK, the hefty price tag does not seem to echo its Twitter handle of #TIDALforall. There is a cheaper version available at £9.99 a month, which does not, however, include lossless streaming and costs almost the same as a subscription to Spotify. Unlike other streaming services, no free option is included, which will undoubtedly further alienate a large proportion of music fans.
Those involved are keen to advocate this service as ideal for artists – where they are paid “fairly” for their music and their art is not underappreciated. Jay-Z was even quoted in Billboard magazine as saying, “People are not respecting the music, and [are] devaluing it and devaluing what it really means. People really feel like music is free, but will pay 6 dollars for water”. If and which musicians actually benefit from this service is also in question. The artist owners such as Beyoncé, Rihanna and Alicia Keys are already established in the music industry. What about other smaller and lesser-known artists who aren’t co-owners? Interestingly, the royalties paid out to artists are only greater for the $19.99 service, whereas the cheaper service pays out almost the same royalties as rival Spotify.
While the site also claims to have exclusive content from artists, as well as rights to release future material from some artists prior to their release on other streaming sites or ITunes, this, again, is problematic. The type of content needs to be substantial enough to encourage users to sign up to the service. Musicians may also isolate a large proportion of their fan base by restricting content to Tidal members. It is highly likely that exclusive content will be leaked on to other websites as well, which will further deter consumers from subscribing to the paid service. With internet sharing and websites such as YouTube, the success and popularity of many artists has relied heavily on the accessibility of their music to a large proportion of their fan base rather than a select few. This may be jeopardised through a service such as Tidal and may even cause a backlash among consumers. Many artists have also spoken out about the service claiming that it may encourage music piracy by charging a premium price for content.
The Tidal press conference saw a number of artists described as the owners of Tidal take to the stage to sign a declaration for the service. This performance appeared to be more of a marketing exercise to give legitimacy to the brand and sell an existing idea as something innovative. Those behind Tidal seem keen to encourage people to become a part of the brand, rather than to promote the service based on music or its merit alone.
Tidal, unfortunately, does not seem to be a consumer-driven service. Much like other premium-priced services, its success rests on the personality of a few celebrities and the hope that music listeners will buy into the branding. With already established competitors in the market, and websites like YouTube where people can listen to music for free, it seems the Tidal “wave” may be short-lived.
Image from: http://www.stereogum.com/1790890/arcade-fire-daft-punk-kanye-west-beyonce-jack-white-madonna-more-share-the-stage-at-tidal-launch-event/news/
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