Jay Z has re-launched a newly-acquired music service called Tidal, with the purpose of making a difference for artists.
It's an interesting strategy. Instead of catering to consumers and promising to improve their lives, Tidal is all about righting the wrongs of the music industry and ensuring artists get paid directly and fully for their art. In return, you get CD-quality music and hopefully a warm feeling in your tummy about paying for HD tunes.
Or will you? To help you decide if Tidal is worth your money and time, especially when pitted against the competition, we've explained how Tidal works and what makes it supposedly better.
What is Tidal, and is it really owned by artists?
Tidal is the first music streaming service to combine "the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos, and expertly Curated Editorial". It is a relatively new service with two subscription tiers available as well as a free trial. As of the end of December 2014, Tidal had a total of 12,000 paid subscribers.
Here's some background information on Tidal: technology company Aspiro and retailer Platekompaniet launched a music service called WiMP in 2009 in Scandinavia. Aspiro re-branded WiMP as Tidal in October 2014, when it expanded Tidal to the UK and US with features like lossless streams (more on that later), music videos, and a curated editorial.
A company controlled by American rapper and entrepreneur Jay Z bought Aspiro, which had 500,000 paid subscribers at the end of 2014, for $56 million last month. But Tidal isn't owned by Jay Z alone. During a press event in April, Jay Z re-launched Tidal under a new ownership. He claimed the owners were all musicians.
Tidal's overall architecture, CD-quality music, and two-tier pricing hasn't changed. It merely has new ownership and a commitment to be the first music streaming service run by artists, for artists, and with the support of all artists. It is therefore debuting with a big marketing push and a lengthy 30-day trial offering.
Why is Tidal re-launching now?
Tidal is claiming it will pay musicians more and make music royalties more transparent for all artists. It is reportedly offering artists up to $3 million and 3 per cent of the company in exchange for their support and exclusive content.
It is also marketing itself as the first artist-owned music and entertainment platform. Artists like Beyonce, Kanye West, Calvin Harris, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Usher, Deadmau5, Daft Punk, Jason Aldean, and others are already on board to get a stake in the service. The door is open for other musicians to join too.
The idea is that musicians involved will benefit not only financially, but they'll also have control over how their work is consumed. It's also worth noting that Tidal is re-launching months after Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify and argued that music is a valuable art form that shouldn't be given away cheaply or for free.
Jay Z told a crowd at New York University that Tidal wants to change the pay system for artists, producers, and writers: "Aloe Blacc had a song that was streamed 168 million times and he got paid $4,000. For us, it’s not us standing here saying we’re poor musicians. If you provide a service, you should be compensated for it."
Someone at the Q&A session then asked how Tidal would shift from its current perception as a pretentious platform designed to make the rich more wealthy, to which Jay Z responded: “You never hear Tim Cook’s net worth whenever he tries to sell you something. Steve Jobs, God bless, he had to have been pretty rich..."
He added: "Nobody’s ever said, 'Oh, the rich getting richer! I won’t buy an iPhone!' Yeah, right. It’s not about being pretentious; again, this is a thing for all artists. You pay $9.99 for Spotify, so why not $9.99 for Tidal. We’re not asking for anything else, we’re just saying that we’ll spread that money to artists more fairly.”
You can read the full transcript of Jay Z's talk here.
How much does Tidal cost and why?
You can see how much Tidal costs globally here. There are two plans available, called HiFi and Premium, with the former priced at $19.99 (£19.99) a month and the latter priced at $9.99 (£9.99) a month. Rival services, such as Spotify, only charge $9.99 a month for access to the highest-quality streams in their catalogues.
Many music services claim to offer CD-quality music, but they usually only deliver bitrate of 320kbps. Tidal has entered the market with a catalogue of 25 million tracks uniquely ripped at the maximum 1411kbps bitrate (44 kHz, 16bit) in Apple Lossless and FLAC formats. Tidal users can also download music for offline listening.
With a HiFi subscription, you will have access to lossless-quality tracks. Lossless content is considered "CD-quality music", because the files are not compressed. The premium subscription is a step down because it only includes "high quality" streams encoded at AAC 320 kbps - the same quality Spotify offers its paid subscribers.
Just remember the following when determining the difference between normal, high quality, and HiFI audio:
- Normal quality audio: 96 kbps (AAC +)
- High quality audio: 320 kbps (AAC)
- HiFi audio: Flac 1411 kbps - Lossless (16 bit/44.1 khz)
In both the HiFi and Premium subscriptions, Tidal users will also have access to over 75,000 "high quality" music videos with no adverts. They'll further have access to curated editorial content, which includes content like artist interviews as well as hand-crafted playlists from an editorial team and your favourite artists themselves.
How can you listen to Tidal, and what music is available?
Apart from Sonos, the Tidal app works with up to 35 platforms, including Android and iOS. Tidal promises to add 10 more options sometime this year. You can find download links to Tidal here. If you would like to browse Tidal's existing music library, visit the Tidal web player at listen.tidalhifi.com (don't need to sign in).
One of the stand-out artists on Tidal is Taylor Swift. She made headlines last year when she spoke against Spotify's free tier and pulled her music from the service. All of Swift's music is now available on Tidal (except her latest hit album, 1989), which isn't too much of a surprise, considering Swift and Jay Z are known to be friends.
Can Tidal beat the competition?
Tidal is re-launching at a time when the music streaming market is bustling with new and existing players. Apple is expected to re-launch the Beats music streaming service in June, for instance, with a price that will undercut rivals and a roster of talent meant to attract listeners, such as the former Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe.
And don't forget about the world’s most popular music streaming service: YouTube. It has nearly 1 billion monthly viewers watching music videos. Google is also prepping YouTube Music Key, which will offer an ad-free tier for £9.99 a month. Tidal further faces heavy competition from Spotify, Deezer, etc.
The only things that make Tidal unique are its CD-quality music, A-list ownership, and commitment to make the rich richer. It's unclear if these aspects will help it to find footing in an industry that's long been crumbling due to pirating.
Want to know more?
Check out Tidal's FAQ page for more in-depth details about how the service works.