What's wrong with the streaming service endorsed by Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chris Martin and countless others?
Almost everything about Tidal is wrong, starting with the army of Grammy winners on stage for the announcement to proclaim the virtues of the new streaming service designed to compete with Spotify now and Apple soon. No one who streams on a regular basis is worried about whether or not Tidal owners Arcade Fire, Beyoncé, Calvin Harris, Coldplay, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Jack White, Jason Aldean, J Cole, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher are getting paid, so the whole ceremony looked a lot like the rich taking steps to make sure they get richer. If you're a music fan, you're likely less concerned with their fates than those of the artists touring clubs whose finances are more precarious. It's not clear that Tidal will be any better for them than any of the other services.
But the bigger issue is that Tidal substitutes the artists' values for those of the listeners, or assumes that listeners want the same things they want. Lossless sound? A lovely thought, but if that were a priority, we wouldn't see so many people listening to music with earbuds on their phones, in their cars, on their computers, or on the bookshelf stereos found at Best Buy. The artists want listeners to hear the works of art they created exactly as they meant them to sound, which is an admirable and understandable goal. Unfortunately, nothing says that's what people want.
Team Tidal also wants to restore the idea that music has value. "People are not respecting the music, and [are] devaluing it and devaluing what it really means. People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water,” said Jay Z in an interview with trade magazineBillboard. That too is of far greater interest to musicians than it is to consumers, and it has always been the way Jigga describes. People have loved albums and consumed them as works of art, and far, far more people bought the singles they liked and could dance to and sing along with. Then they bought the next single they liked for the same reason with little concern for the artistry, the artist, or the song's story. And you could always find something frivolous that people spent money on that was more expensive than a single (and at times, for an album).
It's hard to believe that the strategy of Team Tidal to release exclusives via Tidal is going to work since the stars create big media events, but I suspect--and I'm spitballing here, admittedly--that they don't dominate people's listening habits the way they'd like to believe. More to the point, at a time when listeners seem to treat streaming services as a form of free (or cheap) radio, it's hard to imagine that they're going to react with much excitement to someone who moves the music they want inside a gated community.
The Tidal roll-out feels a lot like the Pono roll-out, with stars in effect scolding listeners for wanting the wrong things. The things Team Tidal wants are reasonable, but I'm not sure who ever got what they wanted by treating their fans like the opposition. The record industry tried that as it tried to see how much it could squeeze out of fans and look where that got them.
A Tidal exclusive