Why Tidal can’t float

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In 2014, a Swedish company called Aspiro started Tidal. Tidal provides a lossless streaming music and content and competes with Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.   It costs $9.99- $19.99 per month with a one month free trail.  Among its competitors, Tidal allegedly pays artists and songwriters the highest percentage of royalties.  In 2015, Jay-Z’s company Project Panther LTD acquired Tidal and fired all Swedish employees.

Tidal’s original pitch gave artists more money for music. Artists like Taylor Swift and Kanye West vocally complained of diminishing returns from streaming services like Spotify.  Fans support artists, not record labels. So it made sense that fans would follow artists to a platform that values their favorite artists, right?
Except for two problems:

  1. Artists, while amazingly talented in many ways, do not always have the business or tech savvy necessary to run massive services like Tidal.
  2.  Music fans are greedy freeloading bastards who won’t pay for anything if we can avoid it.

Tidal had problems from the start.  They went through three CEOs in 2015.  The press ripped them a new one.  And in the last month, a lil diva by the name of Kanye exacerbated technical problems with the service.

Tidal offered a live stream of Kanye’s Yeezy fashion show live from NY Fashion Week.  Fans complained of long buffering times and terrible quality. So much for lossless picture and sound.

On February 14, Kanye released and immediately pulled his new album The Life of Pablo, leaving many of paying fans angry and album- less. Kanye says he pulled the album to “make tweaks”.
And therein lies (one of) Tidal’s problems. In the old days, one did not simply pull an album.  Albums were heavily planned investments.  They required planning.  Approval. I still can’t believe Universal, who distributes West’s music, let him do it.
Streaming liberates artists from the costs of hard copies, but we music fans still expect a certain degree of professionalism. Fans were rightfully pissed that they paid up to $42 for an imaginary album. And all the promises of HD quality mean nothing if Tidal doesn’t have the servers to back them up.
Some aspects of Tidal’s problems suggest they could be quite successful if they got their shit together. Kanye’s fashion show stream probably suffered from poor quality because of the amount of people streaming. Kanye fans bumped Tidal up the most downloaded app on iTunes on February 14.  If you build it, they will come. If you blow it, they will leave.
Personally, I want Spotify to buy everyone (including Apple Music) and end the streaming war. Surely Spotify can work out a deal with the Taylor Swifts of this world. And while I do support artists and their work, I also remember the days of Napster and LimeWire. Labels should thank their lucky stars [some] nerds work for them now.
In the end, artists aren’t calling the shots on music distribution. You are. And you’re calling bullshit on Tidal.


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