Tidal: The High Tide of the Industry?

Exclusive tracks from popular artists may be Tidal’s best or only hope of attracting users away from its competitors like Spotify or Apple Music, but their staying power is in question. Photo courtesy of Digital Music News.

Written by Simone Tandon

The new streaming service, Tidal, was launched with a mission – a mission to reestablish the value of music.

Publically unveiled by Jay Z in March 2015, Tidal is supported by some of the most successful names in the music industry – including artists such as Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, and Kanye West. Tidal was created to essentially privatize the distribution of music to create a more sustainable and equitable model for artists.

Tidal differentiates itself from other streaming services by offering artist exclusives. Kanye West followed Beyoncé’s “Formation” and gave sole streaming rights to Tidal for his much-anticipated, “The Life of Pablo” album. His exclusive immediately pushed Tidal to number one on the iOS app store. According to a study by Digital Music News, the number of subscribers, “more than doubled from around 1 million to 2.5 million”.

It is, however, questionable how many users will go on to pay the monthly fee after their 30-day free trial ends. It seems easy enough to listen to Kanye’s album for a month and then move on to the next most anticipated album, Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Nonetheless, as a marketing strategy, it is a good way to get users on the website. Exclusive tracks from popular artists may be Tidal’s best or only hope of attracting users away from its competitors like Spotify or Apple Music, but their staying power is in question.

Despite Tidal priding itself on its profitable, high quality sound, a key differentiator against rivals Sound Cloud and Spotify, is it really worth the $20 per month Tidal HiFi subscription? Spotify offers a comparable amount of music at almost half the price. For some consumers, the quality and the artists rewards are not enough. Freshman in Stern, Jay N. Sanghvi, believes that, “Between Spotify and Tidal, I would choose whichever streaming service has a wider availability of tracks and is easier to use, and for me that’s Spotify.”

Perhaps, Tidal too, has noticed the price differential. As it stands, it is the fifth largest streaming music service globally with 3 million subscribers according to company announcements. However, it is significantly behind Spotify, who boasts close to 30 million subscribers and even Apple Music (which gained 11 million subscribers in just six months). Tidal recently introduced a $9.99 per month option with only standard sound quality. Moreover, it also announced a student discount for up to 50% off its membership tiers.

The shift towards streaming free music was almost inevitable considering the rapid technological advancement. But, there is little consensus to how such a model for expanding music is undermining artist payment. Artists like Taylor Swift are even pulling their music off Spotify, commenting, “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.” This is where Tidal comes in.

Emma Crouchen (Steinhardt ’19), a music business student, is one of many consumers who believe in Tidal’s mission.

“I prefer to use Tidal over SoundCloud because I think it gives back to the artists who need to be rewarded for their creation. Also I love the exclusives on Tidal. I can be the first to hear my favorite artist’s tracks,” said Crouchen.

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Nonetheless, what Beyoncé described as “for the people by the people” has instead been criticized as a “members-only” club, driving more money into the pockets of multi-millionaire artists, who together are estimated to be worth over $2.7 billion. Additionally, services such as Spotify, SoundCloud, and Pandora have a free tier option, which allows users to explore fresh new tracks while casually browsing. These music- streaming applications are intended for the discovery of upcoming artists rather than just listening to already established musicians.

The question, however, remains: are consumers really concerned with artist compensation? If they’re not, then Tidal’s mission to “save” the music industry seems implausible. With Beyoncé’s new album taking center stage at Tidal, it will be left to the users to decide whether or not Tidal’s “free the artist” brand image is here to stay.


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