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An evaluation of Tidal, Jay-Z's new music streaming service

Tidal: pay to ride the wave

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The Spectrum

On Monday Jay-Z launched Tidal, his own music streaming service.

It went viral almost immediately. But most people posting about it had no idea what it was. On Tidal’s homepage, the tagline reads: High Fidelity Music Streaming. It was clear that Tidal was a music streaming service; why it was different than, say, Spotify or Pandora, was not clear.

Tidal’s selling point lies in its claim to offer a higher quality of music by using lossless hi-fi streams – stating its music will literally sound better than everything else.

Lossless streams do not consolidate music files in any way – the sound remains unedited from the studio. MP3 files are condensed, which makes them easier to export and import, but decreases the music quality and audio frequency range.

Tidal offers a “lossless” streaming format, while Spotify and Pandora offers MP3 files.

But what does that really mean? What is it exactly you are paying for?

Why the hype?

Tidal, the latest company attempting to break into the burgeoning music streaming industry comes with a catch – it isn’t free. The company is charging a rate of $9.99 a month for their basic streaming services; the premium stream, which includes the lossless format, is double: $19.99.

The company’s release video only added to the mysteriousness and hype of Jay-Z’s grandiose rollout of his company. The video featured an unbelievable medley of artists, including: Kanye West, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Jack White, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, J. Cole, Usher, Rihanna, The Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys, Jason Aldean and Madonna, who were introduced as “owners” of this new music streaming company.

They all turned their Twitter and Instagram pictures into a solid color representing a solidarity movement to raise awareness for the budding company.

Jay-Z’s glamorous, star-studded PR rollout worked; Tidal, almost overnight, became a household name, despite the overall ambiguity of the company and its relevance.

The positives: more figurative than literal

Tidal, apart from its claim to offer better sounding music, is championing itself as the savior of the music industry.

Spotify and Pandora have become notorious for their near non-existent royalty fees for artists: one million plays on Spotify will garner an artist between $6,000 and $8,000, a meager sum for the substantial amount of plays, according to Spotify’s website.

According to Jay-Z, and all the artists invested in the company, Tidal will have a higher payout for artists than any other streaming service. But the details of exactly how much higher are unclear.

In a recent New York Times article, Ben Sisario talked to Tidal representative Vania Schlogel but she declined to comment on the company’s exact payout rate.

Regardless, the high number of artists supporting Tidal gives a clear message: pay for Tidal and save the music industry.

In the company’s bid to find popularity, the service is offering “exclusive content” to subscribers. The growing list of Tidal-only content includes previously unreleased Rihanna and Beyoncé songs, a Daft Punk short film and even a White Stripes TV spot.

There was even a rumor Kanye West leaked his new album, So Help Me God, on Tidal: only speculation, but this undoubtedly added to the PR wave.

The competition between Tidal and other companies is escalating quickly: Jay-Z pulled his album Reasonable Doubt from Spotify earlier in the week in what looks to be the beginning of a long-fought battle for control of the streaming industry.

The negatives: too high a cost for luxury

For all this hustle and bustle, Tidal offers less music than Spotify does, despite having a list of higher-profile singles. Spotify offers 30 million songs, while Tidal only offers 25 million, according to RedEye Music.

The exclusivity of content goes both ways, however. While Tidal may have Jay-Z’s album, and a modest smattering of unreleased singles, Spotify has service exclusives, too.

Despite Tidal’s claim to offer a tangible difference in audio quality, lossless streams will offer no clear-cut difference to anyone using a regular pair of ear buds other than trained audiophiles. In order to reproduce the highest quality of streams, listeners will require a high-end music system or production-level headphones.

This makes Tidal more of a luxury brand than anything: to experience Tidal fully requires not only a pricey subscription but also expensive headphones or speakers.

The monthly subscription is not cheap either.

Already, the company has caught some criticism for being overpriced: the monthly fees are either $9.99 a month for a basic streaming service or $19.99 a month for “lossless quality.” At $120 or $240 a year, Tidal is easily one of the most expensive streaming companies around. Competitors, and industry giants, Pandora and Spotify both offer free services for their users, with paid alternatives for ad-free listening.

For a student paying $5 for Spotify Premium, Tidal’s premium service is four-times as expensive, with little to no benefits.

To compete with other companies, Tidal will have to do more than claim to have a superior music quality for its exclusive content.

As the battle for music streams degrades into chasing individual albums, the choice between Tidal and alternatives like Spotify is reduced to making the choice between paying more, less or nothing per month – a seemingly easy decision.

Tidal may have Reasonable Doubt, but Spotify still has Visions.

Brian Windschitl is an arts editor and can be reached at brian.windschitl@ubspectrum.com


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