TIDAL made waves after an elite group of musicians publicly signed their personas away to support the Spotify rival, but here we are a week later and it feels like a wash. Will TIDAL make the lasting impact in music its A-list supporters hoped for?
After a $56 million pay-out, Jay Z acquired the music subscription service with a vision where artists unite, music lovers shell out $20 for lossless quality listening, and all would be right in the unchartered world of music streaming. He was met with overwhelming ridicule and outrage because of its hefty monthly price tag - Jay's quote from his recent Billboard interview justifying the dollar amount by claiming people spend $6 for water only furthered our perception he has no idea what it's like to not live as a multi-millionaire.
BreatheHeavy.com talked with Billboard.com's Senior Editorial Analyst, Glenn Peoples, about the short and long-term effects of TIDAL.
"The main shift is artists having more say in the business model, in the licensing deals," Peoples says, adding for years artists have complained they are left out of the negotiations between labels and digital services. "They feel like they're getting the short end of the stick."
Music saw a major shift when iTunes downloads dominated physical purchases. Now, listeners have the option to purchase then download a song or stream it. Giving the consumer the ability to choose lead to a power struggle between who controls the music, what gets paid for it and how it is distributed. The uphill battle TIDAL faces is convincing comfortable Spotify streamers to jump ship from streaming music for free (with ads) to commercial-free streaming using either TIDAL's standard listening $9.99 or lossless quality $19.99 per month subscription. Will most people appreciate TIDAL's efforts to create a "better" user experience by forcing the listener to shell out cash in lieu of advertisements about car insurance and cat food?
The answer should be yes, but it isn't.
In a bid to promote the service and gain new subscribers, Rihanna ("American Oxygen"), Madonna ("Ghosttown" video teaser) and Beyonce ("Die With You") posted exclusive content to TIDAL last week, but its impact was less than stellar. Not only did the move turn off entire fan-bases because of the pressure to shell out cash for said exclusive content, but it promoted piracy; the original media posted on TIDAL landed on free platforms like YouTube almost immediately after its debut. Spotify continues dominating competing music streaming services like TIDAL or Rhapsody because people like the illusion their music listening experience is free, but can Spotify sustain their unrestricted access indefinitely?
"I don't know if we should expect Spotify to continue the offer of free, unlimited access in the future," Peoples continues. "It might be that in the near future Spotify limits the free advertising tier. Labels have been very vocal about their unhappiness about free, unlimited streaming. This was an approach labels bought into years ago... bring people in with free listening and convince some of them to become paying subscribers. Now, we're four years into Spotify being available in the United States, and labels don't think free/unlimited streaming is good. They're unhappy with the conversion rate, they're unhappy with the royalties, they want some limits on free streaming."
The hand-selected group of musical heavyweights stood behind a message of unity at the service's launch on March 30th, labeling the occasion "a moment that will forever change the course of music history," but it provides little insight what it can do for emerging musicians aside from higher royalty rates on a per stream basis. It does appear the rich keep getting richer, but artists like Calvin Harris, Daft Punk and Chris Martin lend their likeness to promote a brave move into unknown territory. The effects of higher payouts in streaming could result in a fairer share for those producing the music: writers, producers, sound engineers.
"It all comes down to listeners," Peoples said. "[Streaming services] is a new industry. I don't think any subscription service is profitable right now. They're spending a lot to grow... success might be lasting five years, sticking around that long."
That's a tall order for TIDAL, who's already received major backlash a week in from music lovers and some recording artists, including Lily Allen and Marina and the Diamonds, who labeled it "insanely transparent." Spotify is available in nearly 60 countries with a team of developers and engineers around the world ensuring its longevity. It remains the most popular streaming platform for a reason, and if TIDAL wants to change industry standards, they'll need to think of something more innovative than an inflated price tag and a handful of celebrity playlists.