An introduction to Tidal, Jay Z’s paid alternative to Spotify and Pandora

By Troy Kowalchuk

(Johan Larsson)
(Johan Larsson/flickr)

Tidal, a paid music streaming service designed to compete with Pandora and Spotify, opened to customers last week. Owned by Jay Z, Arcade Fire, Beyoncé, Daft Punk, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and several other big label musicians, Tidal announced that it is “the first artist-owned global music and entertainment platform,” according to The Guardian.

The Guardian reports that Tidal debuted in Norway as WiMP before its original owner, Aspiro, changed the name in 2014 when it opened up service in the United States and United Kingdom. By the end of 2014, it had 500,000 subscribers, and a Jay Z-led company bought it in March 2015.
Subscribers can pay $9.99 per month for MP3 quality or $19.99 per month for CD quality, according to The Washington Post.

Music streaming websites like Pandora and Spotify have become the primary ways to listen to music since 2010. According to a 2014 Nielsen report, physical and digital album sales continued to decline, but music streaming increased over 50 percent from 2013 to 2014.

“It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is, I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art,” Taylor Swift wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed about her decision to not release her 2014 album, “1989,” on Spotify.

The shift to streaming pushed Swift to keep her album off Spotify, and it is this same shift that may lead many artists to join Tidal.

Jay-Z announced the creation of Tidal last week with stars from a variety of different genres. Arcade Fire, Beyoncé, Calvin Harris, Coldplay, Daft Punk and many others were present at the announcement. All of these artists stated its desire to put value into their music and to give power back to the artists.
Tidal’s website is beautiful and looks promising. What sets it apart from other websites is that amount of features this program has, such as its exclusives. Whether it be Beyonce’s new single, “Die With You,” or Rihanna’s new single, “American Oxygen,” the fact that Tidal carries exclusive material gives it appeal.

Tidal is also pushing their new sound system, “Lossless High Fidelity,” a high quality music player that will give a “fully detailed, richer sound.” By incorporating this new sound system Tidal hopes to focus more on the music.

Tidal also contains a platform of articles and interviews of artists in its “Behind the Music” section. Many of these articles focus on up and coming artists, not just the company’s high-profile shareholders.

In addition, Tidal has created a community where artists discuss and critique each other’s works, known as “The Talkhouse.” This week’s talkhouse features Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood discussing Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly.”

Playlists similar to Spotify’s add charm, but Tidal also includes playlists created by the artists themselves, like Beyonce’s “Festival Favorites.” Tidal also has playlists centered on specific artists like, “Discover deadmau5.”

Tidal streams music videos too. With exclusive videos, Tidal creates an ad-free music community where artists are the singular focus.

Despite these features, there has been backlash against the service. Many argue that streaming is the new normal in music distribution, and that people shouldn’t have to pay for music when the artists are getting paid through ads. Some suggest that Tidal’s money will go to the music industry rather than the artists themselves.

There are questions about the big price tag for Tidal’s high quality streaming. But lower quality streaming service is priced competitively with paid options on Spotify and Pandora.. Tidal’s artist pool is somewhat limited, but there is an option to suggest new music that the site should add to its catalog.

Despite the criticism, Tidal is a new step in the growth of music streaming and could be valuable if it takes off. But its success depends on artist incorporation. Right now, with artists posting videos, creating new playlists and discussing music together, Tidal is an asset that’s worth the money. But if artists move away from interaction with its fans and Tidal shifts more to profiteering, the system could collapse.

If the listener isn’t invested in the artists currently on Tidal, they should stick to other streaming websites. But if they put a lot of thought and interest into the music and the artists currently subscribed, then Tidal is worth it. Either way any person can try out Tidal’s free 30-day trial to see if it is right for them.

Troy Kowalchuk can be reached at [email protected][liveblog]