Jay-Z's Tidal Streaming Service Could Fail Before it Really Begins

Since the advent of digitally distributed music, artists have been vocal in their support or denial of the new means to listening in. For platinum-selling artists with giant record deals and millions to spend in marketing, purchasing songs piecemeal or streaming for free has been detrimental to their business-driven efforts.

Conversely, your local ragtag band might find the ease of distribution to be fulfilling to its growth in popularity. Eliminating a costly entry point gives new listeners less of a reason to avoid experimenting with unheard bands and genres.

Tidal, a streaming service set to compete with Spotify, caters to those artists who thrive off the business end. Jay Z, who recently bought out the company, has recruited quite the celebrity lineup and gathered them all together for an awkward press conference to announce the streaming service’s mission statement.

Promising higher payouts for artists and lossless audio quality, Tidal sounds perfect on paper. Unfortunately for Jay Z and his investors, the public’s reaction has been less than stellar.

Tidal’s seemingly flawless product comes at a price. For $9.99/month, you get what is essentially the exact same service Spotify (it even looks the same) provides for free — minus the ads. If CD-quality streaming is appealing to you, Tidal bumps its monthly fee to $19.99.

Again, on paper, Tidal isn’t so bad. Sure it doesn’t follow the “freemium” strategy that’s enticed over 60 million active users and 15 million paid subscribers to sign on with Spotify, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe artists do deserve proper compensation for their work. And maybe it is time people gain appreciation for sound quality in music. 

Or maybe Tidal doesn’t actually provide any of these things. And maybe Tidal’s wave is going to break far before it crashes over music fans like Jay Z claims it will.

Consider this: Young music fans do not want to pay for music anymore. The idea of spending $9.99/month Spotify’s premium service is hard enough for many to proposition. But a $19.99/month fee is ludicrous in today's market.

Knowing this, Tidal promises exclusive content from major artists. Doing so could end up backfiring, though. Sales could fall, there could be spikes in piracy and, frankly, people may not even care.

As for the lossless CD-quality audio, many music fans either cannot hear the difference or won't pay for the upgrade. Years of listening to compressed MP3s and steaming poor quality music has essentially trained people to accept it as the norm.

Without the proper equipment, it’s safe to say listeners will never hear a true difference in quality either. Apple EarBuds and computer speakers aren’t exactly up to snuff with audiophile standards, further lessening the effect of Tidal’s main draw.

Supporting the ultra-rich giants of industry that Jay Z brought on stage is tough to swallow. These people aren’t exactly starving artists.  If Tidal is going to convince Spotify customers to switch over in the name of proper compensation, it needs to highlight how smaller and independent artists benefit. For now, Tidal’s business model remains shrouded in vagueness, and it’s only hurting its chances.

Early professional reviews of Tidal have been steadily great. But, the keyword here is “professional.” At the end of the day, what matters is the public opinion and based on that, the future seems grim. A quick peruse through the comment sections of articles on Tidal will speak volumes. Its press coverage has been shaky as well.

There is some good Tidal’s coming can bring, though. For one, added competition forces companies to improve their products and innovate to stay relevant. Spotify simply cannot remain stagnant anymore. 

The industry-wide issues with poor streaming royalties could see improvement, too. Now that Tidal is tugging hard on the proper-payment-for-proper-entertainment byline, Spotify will need to respond and potentially increase its royalty payouts.

Regardless, all of this remains as pure conjecture. Only time will tell if Tidal has its sea legs and until the service has been around for some time, there remains to be any real proof of its pitfalls and accomplishments.

Contact the reporter at nlatona@asu.edu or follow @Bigtonemeaty on Twitter.

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