What TIDAL Is and What TIDAL Is Not

tidal-share.9d1c0023Everybody is talking about TIDAL, the new streaming service spearheaded by Jay-Z and a bevy of his musical buddies. They have branded TIDAL as the music industry’s savior, putting more control and income in the pockets of the artists themselves. But in truth, that is just clever marketing. Let’s spell out exactly what TIDAL is and what it is not.

TIDAL is a power grab

For years, the music industry has been under assault. There has been the advent of piracy, sales declines, and a general lack of creativity. As the industry weathered these assaults, the real loser has been artists that are getting squeezed on both ends. Record companies have tried to negotiate for lesser artist profits while the artists receive minor royalties from streaming services. TIDAL hopes to put more of the power (and dollars) back in the hands of artists themselves by claiming a bigger cut of the pie. Not a bad premise.

TIDAL is a potentially very lucrative business venture

Unlike other streaming services like Spotify, you’ve got to pay a subscription to use the service. $10 a month gets you in the door and $20 a month grants “hi-fi” lossless sound quality. If TIDAL can rustle up enough users (say, in the millions), the profit shares would like mighty nice. But that is a very strong “if.”

TIDAL is a media circus

With its launch, Jay-Z has made a point to repeatedly broadcast his celebrity partners. From its star-studded “meeting” to its star-studded press conference, celebrity has been at the forefront. And rightfully so. It is an easy way to get people talking and get press coverage. The only problem has been that people are talking more about the people than the product. Which was the whole point.

TIDAL is Hi-Fi

The main differentiator between TIDAL and other streaming services is the “hi-fi” option. In my own personal test comparing TIDAL to Spotify (playing tracks from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly), you can definitely tell the difference in musical quality. Is it a “pay you $20 a month” difference? No. Hell nawl. But, I could see music purists and fanatics springing for it just because.

TIDAL is a bad thing

TIDAL has also set itself apart by providing exclusive content. And most are speculating that the grand plan would be to pull its superstar investors’ libraries from other streaming services in order to coerce their fans to sign up. If this were to happen, it would be like holding music listeners at gunpoint, making them decide between free limited streaming and paid unlimited streaming. Nobody would get a large following of users, and the listeners themselves would be the big losers.

TIDAL is not a social movement

My biggest criticism of TIDAL has nothing to do with the services it provides and everything to do with how they are attempting to woo fans. The investors have been prompting their followers on social media to change their avatars to a simple aqua swatch (hex #00ffff to be exact) to raise awareness for TIDAL. This same tactic has been employed for social movements like marriage equality from the Human Rights Campaign. TIDAL is not a “grass roots” social movement, and using social activism methods for its benefit is highly suspect. Now, if only we could get this many high-profile celebrities to unite behind an actual social movement instead of a venture that puts money in their pockets …

TIDAL is not an uprising

This is not the downtrodden taking on their oppressors. This is not a revolution to “change the game.” And to brand it in that manner is to let these stars make themselves feel even more self-important than they already do. No one has outlined how TIDAL is more conducive to supporting smaller artists, probably because any gains would likely be marginal.

TIDAL is not a “Spotify-killer”

The streaming music market is a deceptively complicated one. The streaming services make deals with the artists for their music. And for that very reason, as pointed out by acclaimed music industry analyst and critic Bob Lefsetz, success in the industry is predicated on “deep pockets”. So unless these stars show true devotion to this cause and dig deep into their own funds, Spotify has little to worry about.

TIDAL is not the music industry’s savior

In truth, TIDAL amounts to liquid band-aid for a terminally ill patient. It is a pretty cool attempt at healing, but the disparity between the size of the tool and the care that needs to be administered is vast. TIDAL wants to use consumer dollars to rectify the money artists feel is due to them. Even if that occurs, that doesn’t change any fundamentals of the music industry where the true issue lives. What is really needed is a complete overhaul of the system’s workings, not a shift of the burden onto consumers.

TIDAL is not a bad thing

TIDAL’s business model may leave listeners on the hook for the cost, but it is attempting to innovate. And lack of innovation has hampered the music industry for decades. Whether TIDAL succeeds or not, hopefully it will push others to find ways to connect music listeners with the best music possible without compromising art or the artist.

If you are intrigued by TIDAL, head to their website and sign-up for a free trial to hear hi-fi streaming for yourself.

Are you already a subscriber? How do you feel about TIDAL? Sound off in the comments section below!


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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.