What is the difference between making history and simply saying, “we’re making history here today?” At some point it starts to feel like overcompensating. Jay Z took to a pop star-studded stage on March 30 to launch Tidal, a music streaming service which appears to be “making history,” somehow.
Flaunted as the first artist-owned music streaming service, Tidal was introduced with the help of fellow supporters Kanye West, Nikki Minaj, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Madonna, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Calvin Harris, Usher, J. Cole, Jason Aldean, Rihanna and members of Arcade Fire and Coldplay, who signed a contract. Alicia Keys did much of the speaking at the event, which was streamed on YouTube. Afterwards, the artists spent five whole minutes signing a contract for the whole world to see. It was all very dramatic.
Tidal seems to be firing direct shots at their competitors in Spotify and Rdio, mostly having to do with the latter two’s offering of a free tier of music subscription. After Taylor Swift pulled her latest album, “1989,” from these services, this has been a huge topic for debate–should there be a legal way to hear music for free?
Clearly, Tidal’s endorsers fall on the “no” side of this debate. Jay Z spoke with Billboard about the issue in the wake of the launch.
“People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water,” Jay Z said. “You can drink water free out of the tap and it’s good water. But they’re okay paying for it. It’s just the mindset right now.”
So, the cheapest subscription price for Tidal is $9.99 a month, which offers 320 kbs (kilobytes per second). No free option is offered (although there are free trials). All of this ties in with Keys’ speech, which makes some very good points about the inherent value of music.
This is all well and good– supporting artists is important, making music isn’t a cheap venture and the modern landscape of music consumption seems to forget about that more often than not. But there’s nothing about Tidal that’s going to fix anything. Sure, Tidal offers a lossless quality streaming package ($19.99 a month)–but what college student, die-hard free Spotify user, is going to shell out that much to hear high quality tunes through laptop speakers?
Tidal will supposedly offer “exclusives,” perhaps stream albums that other services won’t have available. But does it make sense financially to begin paying ten bucks a month to hear a favorite artist’s new record when it would theoretically be available on iTunes for that same cost, one payment only? Also, where are these exclusives at the essential launch hour? This service claims to be by the artist and for the artist, but how is it helping those who weren’t on that stage? Who aren’t on major labels?
When it comes down to it, the only thing that Tidal really has going for it against the other streaming behemoths is a lot of big artists and some perhaps overblown rhetoric. Big name endorsements are all well and good, but, as was the case with Dre’s failed Beats Music streaming services, they’re not enough to keep a business afloat. The launch of Tidal was defined by a whole lot of unanswered questions, but no history making seems to have been done.
Jordan Walsh can be reached at Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.org