The 5 reasons why Jay-Z’s Tidal isn’t going to make waves in music
Update: Jay-Z reference updated
Jay-Z may be a superstar producer, entrepreneur and multi-billionaire, but is he music mogul enough to transform an industry? According to his own estimates, yes he is, and that’s why he’s taken over and relaunched Tidal.
Originally set to rival the not-very-profitable Spotify, Jay-Z hopes his takeover and relaunch of the service can wash away the Swedish approach to music streaming. Its aim, for £20 a month, is to deliver more revenue back to the artists, something Spotify doesn’t reportedly do too well, and stream lossless tracks to users.
Jay-Z isn’t alone in this endeavour, having partnered with musicians to help increase the appeal of Tidal’s catalogue of tunes in time for launch.
While Tidal could eventually play host to an eclectic range of music, it’s announcement raised some questions around just how game-changing it’ll be as a service.
1. The press conference was more glitz, less “geek”
For a music service that’s positioning itself as for the music connoisseur (why else would it offer lossless audio?), its press conference on Monday was a little thin on the ground when it came to the actual technology behind it all. In fact, the only thing that came out of Tidal’s conference was the trotting out of a-list musicians and an awkward handshake between Madonna and Deadmau5.
We heard Alicia Keys preach about how music is a “universal language” and how Tidal can be “a moment that will forever change the course of music history.” She also promised exclusive content and a way for fans and musicians to interact with each other, although it was never quite explained how.
As far as its press conference goes, it looks as if Tidal’s relaunch is relying on fame to project it into popular use.
2. Who asked for lossless audio?
While it’s certainly a nice bullet point on Tidal’s sheet next to Spotify’s, the inclusion of lossless audio is really rather pointless.
Spotify currently gives its Premium users a higher bit rate of 320kbps, with Unlimited and Free receiving 160kbps and, if you want to save data, mobile users can opt for a 96kbps bit rate. Lossless audio, however, will stream from around 400kbps up to around 1,400kbps.
For the uninitiated, this means Tidal is streaming CD-quality FLAC files to your devices. So, for the first time since your Sony CD Walkman packed in, you can have CD-quality audio while on the go. None of that icky 320kbps MP3 quality for you.
Somehow I don’t think the kids sat on the back of the bus playing Jay-Z from their phone speakers will really care. Nor would the average commuter who’s headphones cost less than six months subscription to Tidal.
In fact, I’d be surprised if many people actually saw lossless audio as a desirable purchase point. Of all of Spotify’s 60 or so million users, 15 million pay. If those 45 million Free users thought it was worth spending £9.99 or $9.99 to get high-bit rate audio, surely there would be more Premium users? And of that 15 million or so who do pay, how many are actually Premium subscribers instead of the ad-free Unlimited?
Tidal clearly sees that the old lossless model just wasn’t working for them, hence since Jay-Z’s adoption of the service it’s opened up a new 30kbps Premium tier. Costing the same as a Spotify premium subscription, there’s very little to differentiate Tidal’s offering over its main competitor.
3. Paying to help the music industry is grand, but just who’s benefiting?
With a push to help artists earn more from music streaming services, Tidal started with rather fair and modest aims. Now though, under the rule of Jay-Z, it seems somewhat sinister.
The artists lined up on the announcement stage weren’t unheard of or struggling artists, they were all multi-millionaires. If anything, Tidal was sending the message of “help us make more money” rather than “let’s save music”.
It’s peculiar to take the angle that music needs to be “saved” or “preserved” too, as last year saw the sale of 9.2 million vinyls – the highest sold in nearly two decades. Last year Spotify gave $1 billion in royalties to the music industry.
It’s easier now to find, listen and buy music online, than ever before.
Unlike Pandora or Spotify, Tidal doesn’t offer users a free tier. While that could be construed as not wanting to lump listeners with annoying adverts, what it really means is that artists on Tidal don’t want to even risk giving their music away for free.
The beauty of Spotify is how its free tier enables users to discover emerging artists and bands by just casually browsing. It becomes more of a discovery platform than a means to listen to your favourite music.
For Tidal, this doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s made for artists who can help drive more users in, and thus up the profits each artist receives. It’s a members club for valuable musicians, where the entry fee is how much business can you bring to the table.
4. Tidal won’t be harming Spotify’s catalogue any time soon
Spotify already has enough to be dealing with in regards to the rise of a potential rival from Apple, as well as movements from Google-owned YouTube. While Tidal doesn’t really pose too great a threat to the service right now, the smartest option would be to offer up more music than the competition.
Currently Spotify adds around 20,000 tracks a day to its catalogue. Most of those will be from bands you’ve probably never heard of as it operates in 58 countries around the world. But the fact is, it’s continually updating.
Yesterday saw the launch of a huge partnership deal between Sony PlayStation and Spotify, bringing it to all PlayStation 4 owners as PlayStation Music, a replacement to the now defunct Sony Entertainment Music Unlimited platform. The deal has the potential to funnel in all of Sony Music’s vast library into Spotify’s catalogue. While some Sony Music is already in there, adding more would only bolster Spotify’s appeal.
Looking at Tidal’s current catalogue you’d be hard pressed to make the move over, as it almost all exists on Spotify already. However, as Keyes said, Tidal’s appeal will be driven by exclusive content. It isn’t aiming for the market of people who just want to listen to some cheesy pop when passing the time, nor for those who heard a song on the radio they quite liked.
Tidal is made for those who want to engage with artists and feel some weird bond between them. But it’s hard to believe that, from the line of artists present on Monday’s announcement, any of those musicians would pull their music from a rival service. It’d just be bonkers.
So, for as long as Spotify has a user base and delivers artists some money each year, they aren’t going to pull the plug and alienate their fans. Even if Tidal exists as an alternative.
5. Tidal’s £20 a month fee doesn’t bode well
Priced at twice the premium Spotify and Google Play subscription, and 20 whole pounds more than Spotify’s entry point, Tidal is a hard sell.
At £20 a month Tidal will set you back £240 a year, while that may not sound like too much for unlimited streaming of a huge catalogue, Spotify offers an equally robust service for half that price. For those wanting CD-quality sound, that’s the equivalent of, roughly, 10 – 15 physical albums a year.
Sony’s Music Unlimited, or Qriosity, came to market at just £3.99 a month, with a £9.99 unlimited on-demand listening option. But even Sony’s 6 million strong catalogue of hits couldn’t compete against Spotify and it’s army of free listeners.
Twitter Music tried to take on Spotify too, albeit as a way to discover new music. This, too, failed to beat back the Swedish juggernaut.
While Tidal will, most certainly, be able to deliver more money to artists with its higher price tier, it’s unlikely to entice most users into adopting it. It’s also annoying to see our US cousins recieving the same service for just $20 a month.
Heck, even if Jay-Z has taken his first album – 1996’s “Reasonable Doubt” – off Spotify in the US, his entire back catalogue is still available on Spotify if you live in the UK, so maybe even he isn’t completely confident in Tidal’s appeal.