4 Reasons Why the Tidal Streaming Service is Good for the Future of Music
It would be easy to glom on with the haters as they lampoon the out-of-touch celebrities that gathered to announce Tidal, Jay Z’s recently acquired streaming service. Few could argue that the announcement event wasn’t pitiful. There were nearly as many uncomfortable celebrities on stage as there were disingenuously enthusiastic people in the audience. And who let Alicia Keyes be the spokesperson?!
All that aside, Tidal could be a good step forward for the music business.
1. Quality. Whether you personally care about the quality of the music you listen to is irrelevant here. There are plenty of arguments that Hi Fi audio is unnecessary given that most listeners are using crappy earbuds and bluetooth speakers to begin with – better audio won’t make that much difference. But it is important that there is a market for Hi Fi audio so that the recording industry doesn’t record for the lowest common denominator. Mastering at high quality is expensive and if the majority of listeners don’t care then it’s logical to reduce costs and master for the format/quality of the market. This is short-sighted since all those recordings will be forever archived without having captured their full spectral sound field. It eliminates the option for listeners to enjoy the full quality sometime in the future when the market does care. This was Neil Young’s charge last year with the launch of the Pono player. I witnessed the Pono launch at SXSW in 2014 when Young proclaimed that this was his primary mission for creation of the player – even if the Pono player failed but a market for high quality audio prevailed; he’d call it a success.
2. Experience. There was a time when we bought albums and sat in our bedrooms pouring over the album covers to get closer to the music and the artists we were listening to. We were held captive there by the lack of portability of records but we were deeply engaged. Then came the cassette followed by the CD. These formats gave us portability at the cost of experience. Yes, we still had at the coaster-sized booklets but they were about as immersive as a pamphlet. Along came MP3 music downloads and it became even less experiential. MP3s were downloaded ad hoc and at best offered a thumbnail of the cover art and perhaps a special bonus video if you bought the entire album. Now, with streaming there is the ability for artists/labels to curate a deeper engagement. Why has it taken so long for someone to imagine a platform that can immerse the listener with exclusive video, artist news, tour dates, merchandise, artist chats, social media, etc?
3. Voice. History is filled with stories of artists whom have gotten screwed over by the labels. It’s a rare few artists who have risen to a level of success to have an equal voice in the business. While it remains to be seen what level of power the celebrity endorsers behind Tidal will have on licensing and royalties but in absence of the music industry having a ‘hand on the wheel’ for a long time, it’s good to see someone step up to steer the ship.
4. Price. In what has been a race to the bottom to offer cheaper (or free) music Tidal is offering a higher cost tier than their competitors. This seems crazy to many but for those who don’t see the value they certainly don’t need to pay the premium. What they don’t have the option for is a free, ad-supported option. For those of us old enough we can remember prices increasing with each new format. So aside from the philosophical hurdle of ‘renting’ music, streaming affords the listener with portability, a massive catalog, and sharability that eclipses the mixtape. Add to this curated content and quality audio and anything shy of $30 (my monthly budget for CDs back in the day) seems like a value to me.
From an outsiders’ perspective these are exciting times for music business. As the old model crumbles under its own weight, impassioned pioneers are finding ways to shape the new frontier for the listener and for the artist. What impact do you think Tidal will have on the future state of music experience?