March 30, 2015 was a big day for TIDAL. The streaming service re-launched with an additional tier of service, exclusive content, and new ownership. Nothing promotes products like celebrity, and TIDAL laid the celebrity on pretty thick during its press event at Skylight at Moynihan Station in Manhattan. The event was somewhat uneventful for those seeking details over enthusiasm, and featured the biggest names in music looking as awkward as toddlers waiting for instructions during a kindergarten graduation ceremony. Overall, we didn't learn much new about TIDAL. The existing TIDAL HiFI lossless service that people have been using since its original launch in late 2014 remains the same. However, the press sure loves to hate and chum the waters with enough link bait to hook every naive reader the world over. Some of the headlines and prose written about TIDAL this week would make the unlearned reader think the service will fail within the month but still fill up the bank accounts of undeserved rich artists. Based on Press reaction, TIDAL would have been better off to Rick-roll everyone at the event. At least the hipster press would have eaten that up and waxed poetically about how great it was. While I won't be watching reruns of the press event, I will keep using TIDAL HIFI like I have since the days of WiMP it's predecessor. Let's take a look at what some of the press had to say about TIDAL.
Josh Constine at Tech Crunch lead with his headline, "Why Jay-Z’s Music App Tidal Sounds Doomed." At least Josh explained the two reasons for his prediction. He said people don't care about higher quality music and most people can't tell the difference between the two quality tiers. Josh also said TIDAL's lack of a free tier, like Spotify, will mean it can't convert users from the trial subscription to a paid subscription. Both of those are good points, but to call TIDAL doomed is a bit over the top. Beats never had a free tier. Sure it didn't challenge Spotify, but it sold for billions of dollars (including the headphone business that Apple could have simply created on it own). Toward the end of Josh's rant he says TIDAL was built for artists, not for the consumer or average listener. Well, I know the people who built TIDAL and I disagree. TIDAL it the new name for WiMP Music. It has been around for several years, and wasn't created by Jay Z and his artist-centric friends looking to satisfy each other. Let's move on.
Perhaps the biggest clap trap of the week, seized upon by several writers, is the fact that Jay Z and the artists that joined him on stage for the press event are rich and don't need or deserve any more money. This really gets the liberal base charged up (no crying foul, I'm as liberal as they come). Who cares if they are rich and have been successful. Many of them come from absolutely nothing. Getting rich is not a bad thing, but it sure gets jealous people's goats. Who do people think can afford to purchase a multimillion dollar business? Starving artists? No, rich people and those with connections to rich people. Here are a couple link bait headlines fishing for the fired up reader. "Jay Z, Beyoncé, Madonna and rich friends offer pricey Spotify alternative called ‘Tidal’" - Justin Wm. Moyer of The Washington Post. "Jay Z enlists millionaire musicians to promote relaunch of Tidal music service" - James Vincent of The Verge. Other writers tried to explain themselves a bit more. Tech Hive's Michael Brown said, "Watching yesterday’s glitz and glamour, it’s easy to be cynical and ask “why do these megastars need more money?” The fact is, the recording industry was built on the backs of artists who never achieved the fame and fortune that was on display at yesterday’s press conference." I'm sure there have been many artist over the years that made great music and never made a penny, but I'd say the music business was built on the backs of the cash cows like Nat King Cole. In fact the Capitol Records building is known as the house that Nat built. Should Jay Z have invited a bevy of D-Listers up on stage to re-launch the service? Using the power of celebrity to sell a product has been done forever and it works.
According to Sam Biddle of Gawker, "Only a few minutes ago, the entire music industry stood on a stage in a collective display of how rich and out of touch they are." And, the anonymous Bossip staff wrote, "Yesterday Jay Z got his rich music friends together to sign on to launch a new streaming service to compete with the likes of Spotify. … Essentially, Jay and company are asking us to help line their pockets out of the kindness of our hearts and desire to see them get richer. The entire fiasco was a money grab and it reeked of desperation and pretentiousness." Maybe I'm out of touch (certainly not rich), but I don't get why a bunch of musicians promoting a service is a collective display of wealth and seen as out of touch. This was a commercial for TIDAL called a press event. I'm under no illusions that TIDAL isn't a business to make money for the owners of the business. That's what businesses do, make money. TIDAL isn't a non-profit or a Co-op. Sure TIDAL will likely be owned by a small number of the most successful artists. The artists who can actually bring in hundreds of millions of dollars! Again, writers looking for attention jumped on the rich-get-richer TIDAL-bashing bandwagon.
Duncan Geere of Tech Radar not only played the rich card, he also pulled out the bottle of snake oil. "In short, the way it looks today, Tidal is a terrible proposition. It's selling snake oil, sharing the profits with the richest artists alone, and the only way it's going to be able to get market share is by screwing over consumers by withholding catalogues from other services." Said Geere. In reality TIDAL isn't that much different than the other streaming services and it offers a lossless option that will help compensate artists more than those other service. Yet, according to Duncan Geere it's a terrible proposition. In addition, what a terrible thing to share the profits with the richest artists alone (not). When those artists are the ones taking a risk or using their celebrity to bring in the profits, that's how capitalism works. Redistributing the profits to everyone or artists bringing in next to nothing makes no sense. Altruistic but nonsensical from a business perspective. Nothing riles up the anti-HiFi crowd like the mention of snake oil. Just seeing those two words has been known to cause objectivist collective blood to boil. But wait, the lossless audio offered by TIDAL is based 100% on objective, scientific, reproducible data. The opinion that TIDAL is terrible is fine, but the misrepresentation that the company is selling snake oil is disingenuous. Link bait anyone?
Meanwhile, while the press darlings Spotify and Pandora continue to garner favorable comparisons to TIDAL, the company's CEOs continue to swim in cash like Scrooge McDuck. Has there been any mention this week of Spotify customers lining the pockets of CEO Daniel Ek whose net work is $400 million? What about Pandora CEO Brian P. McAndrews whose total calculated compensation, as of fiscal year 2013, was $29,167,388? Does anyone care to see what the money losing company Pandora is paying its other executives? Here's a hint, between $3.5 and $11.6 million (2013 data). I'm not a fan of playing the rich card. I don't care how much money these people make. I just find it convenient and uncreative for the Press to raise the issue while preaching to their choirs.
It's simple to sit here reading what others have to say about TIDAL and make snide comments about what was said. I live in an online glass house, I shouldn't throw stones. At least not without offering my own opinions about TIDAL. I should say that TIDAL has also been an advertiser here at Computer Audiophile and may be at some point in the future. I also have friends at the company in both Oslo, Norway and here in the US. I want to see the company succeed, but I also want all the streaming companies to succeed. If all of them succeed, consumers should win with greater competition. For the most part I really like TIDAL. The ability to stream tens of millions of tracks in lossless quality is what the service is all about to me. The fact that the other streaming services don't offer this lossless tier of service in the US, without ties to hardware vendors, is what makes TIDAL better for me. TIDAL has its share of challenges ahead and isn't a perfect service. If Spotify has 15 million paying customers (60 million total) and still loses money, TIDAL better run its business pretty lean with only 17,000 current customers. Comparing TIDAL's user interfaces with the competition doesn't really matter. All the interfaces on all the services change frequently. It all comes down to personal taste, and you know what they say about taste, there's no accounting for it. Currently TIDAL doesn't have the social media integration or integrated apps that Spotify offers. Including such features isn't rocket science and it will likely be done in due time on TIDAL. The fact that TIDAL announced exclusive content is a bit troubling for users of other services that want this content and don't want to switch or purchase more than one service. Exclusives didn't start with TIDAL and will not end with TIDAL. As I alluded to earlier, the streaming services are much more alike than they are different. People are going to use which ever one they like best. No service is a killer of the others. There is room for more than one service, although Bob Lefsetz would beg to differ with me. It's also being thrown around in the Press that TIDAL is going to usher in a new era of piracy because of exclusives and high prices. I don't buy it. Piracy is dead for all but the dedicated thieves. People like convenience and the streaming services make it way too easy to listen to the music that's available rather than find a pirated copy and sync it to one's phone. Streaming services keep honest people honest regardless of exclusives and prices. If people can't get the music they want they'll move on. My three year old daughter's generation won't be pirating The Beatles if they can't get the music via a streaming service. They'll move on and the Beatles will disappear. Exclusives mean people won't have certain content, they don't bring on piracy. Down the road I see one potential issue for Jay Z and his fellow owners of TIDAL. They've been pushing the whole artist owned mantra heavily this week and will likely keep pushing it to death. It's not a bad thing. However, in a few years things will get awkward when the artists sell TIDAL to Samsung for several billion dollars. I guess it will become the service formerly owned by artists.