Why Tidal Doesn’t Matter

Yesterday, musician Jay-Z and a number of other millionaire musicians announced the (re)launch of Tidal, a streaming music service. It had initially gained some small amount of traction in the audiophile market as a lossless music streaming service (under the name WiMP), notably with a good selection of classical music, before being purchased by Mr. Z. While it still offers lossless streaming – in a more expensive plan – the basic Tidal offers 25 million tracks for the standard price of $10 a month. What sets it apart is the fact that it is the fact that the majority of the company is owned by artists.

This ownership means nothing, though, in the broader scheme of things. Unless these musicians – and there are some big names, including Rihanna, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk, and Beyoncé – have become Marxists, the company won’t pay out much more to artists than other streaming services. Even if they can increase royalties by 50% – which probably isn’t difficult, given the low royalties paid to artists by other streaming services – that won’t help fledgling artists very much. What it will do, however, is help continue to line the pockets of the artists who do sell lots of music. I find it suspicious that when launching a streaming service that is supposed to be fair to artists, they’re unable to say what they’ll be paying.

Mr. Z – whose real name is Shawn Carter – seems to have a flimsy grasp of economics. He is quoted by the New York Times as saying, “Water is free. Music is $6 but no one wants to pay for music. You should drink free water from the tap — it’s a beautiful thing. And if you want to hear the most beautiful song, then support the artist.”

Perhaps Mr. Z doesn’t realize that most people pay for water; perhaps that is not the case for him. But comparing music to water shows that his liquid-based business model needs a bit more fleshing out. Also, what music costs $6? An album? A download? Most CDs cost more than that, as do most albums sold as downloads. Mr. Z’s albums are certainly not $6 each.

I wholeheartedly agree that artists need to be paid more fairly, and that streaming music services are just another way for record labels to exploit artists. But there’s no way that Tidal will change that, at least not unless these millionaire co-owners – who, according to the New York Times, have not invested their own liquidity in the company, but have been “granted shares in exchange for their good-faith efforts to supply exclusive content” – are prepared to not take profits in order for smaller artists to be able to afford to pay their water bills.

Mr. Z is also quoted as saying: “I just want to be an alternative. They don’t have to lose for me to win.” Actually, they do. Because very few people subscribe to more than one paid streaming service. So the only way for Tidal to win is for them to attract users from other services. It’ll be a tough slog.

7 thoughts on “Why Tidal Doesn’t Matter

  1. As I recall, lossless subscriptions pay twice the royalty rates. If that is the case, they should’ve emphasized it.
    There are several things I like about the Tidal app, but it’s not as good as Rhapsody.

    • I’ve never heard that about lossless streaming. They may pay more, but there are only a handful of services that offer lossless. For now, Tidal hasn’t said how much they’re paying for either tier.

  2. If indie artists were somehow offered shares in Tidal, that may be an incentive. With that being said, Bandcamp remains the best option for both artists and music buyers.

  3. It will be interesting to see how big a draw the “exclusive content” the artists are obliged to provide for their 3% stake will be. It worked for Beyonce and iTunes.

  4. Water is free? Out here in Arizona, we call water “liquid gold”. Very far from being free.

    A streaming service won’t do any better than existing streaming services unless it significantly improves one of three areas: 1) value (as in price); 2) ease of use/ability to easily create streams I like; and 3) music curation (someone else puts together great streams).

    People don’t care about how much the artists are getting paid per play. Besides, the artists make their money off of concerts, which is why bands like the Rolling Stones, Def Leppard, Van Halen, etc. keep touring without releasing new material – they have sufficient catalog to play and don’t need the risk of putting out a bad album. Why spend their time making something that earns them very little?

  5. My reaction to Tidal, only having recently tried it out, is somewhat more positive, mostly centered around the (to me) higher audio quality of the “lossless” option, but one must deal with the wretched search engine for TRYING to find classical titles. Of course, this is not a problem exclusive to Tidal, but is it possible for someone to improve this situation industry-wide? I go into my impressions in some detail at my blog (http://nealsmusings.blogspot.com/), but I’ve uncovered some other issues. Many DG label titles (particularly noticed on piano recordings) are afflicted with flutter (not heard on other streaming services) and there are a number of mis-matched albums. My attempts to contact them about this have met with no change or reply or attention that I can discern. Is there ANY way to directly email or speak to someone at this outfit?

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