Tidal is the talk of the town. But what is Tidal?
Tidal is a new business being launched by venture capitalists. Despite all the PR bluster, Tidal is basically just a premium streaming service. It'll cost $19.99 a month and it offers lossless files for streaming – so, higher quality files than you get on Spotify or YouTube (despite most people not owning the appropriate hardware for making this higher quality audible). On top of this, it'll offer a few exclusives from some high profile artists – maybe the odd demo, live performance, advance stream, curated playlist, etc. – that you can't get on other services.
It's literally just a streaming service. Normally reporting on the music tech industry is literally the dullest fucking shit in the world, but Tidal is different because it's being spearheaded by occasional rapper Jay Z. And he brought in some of his famous music industry friends for a promo video and press conference – so, Alicia Keys, the Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Beyoncé, Jack White, Kanye West, Madonna, Deadmau5, etc. Celebrities are better than normal people because they're famous.
Tidal is on the side of artists. Ostensibly, anyway. It's certainly on the side of the famous artists who appeared at the press conference, given they all have a stake in the company (cronymism in action!). Also, their claim to be on the side of artists was slightly undermined after they paid for a bad imitation of the Haxan Cloak's music in their promo video rather than actually licensing the Haxan Cloak's music. He's deleted his angry tweet, but the stories are still up.
It puts people before profit. Well, obviously it puts profit first, but the aim with Tidal is to at least be slightly fairer on songwriters and producers than other streaming services are. "We didn’t like the direction music was going and thought maybe we could get in and strike an honest blow," Jay Z told Billboard, "Will artists make more money? Even if it means less profit for our bottom line, absolutely. That’s easy for us. We can do that. Less profit for our bottom line, more money for the artist; fantastic."
It will apparently solve pop music. "Creatively, what do you hope happens, beginning tomorrow?", asks the Billboard interviewer. "Artists come here and start making songs 18 minutes long, or whatever," Jay Z responds, bizarrely, "I know this is going to sound crazy, but maybe they start attempting to make a Like a Rolling Stone, you know, a song that doesn’t have a recognizable hook, but is still considered one of the greatest songs of all time, the freedom that this platform will allow art to flourish here. And we’re encouraging people to put it in any format they like. It doesn't have to be three minutes and 30 seconds. What if it’s a minute and 17, what if it’s 11; you know, just break format. What if it’s just four minutes of just music and then you start rapping?"
There are some exclusives. Some of the things Tidal promises are exclusive releases – these will include things like The White Stripes' first ever television appearance, Daft Punk's dodgy Electroma film, and playlists curated by the Arcade Fire, Beyoncé, Coldplay, and so on.
But is it any good? No matter how many 'slebs endorse the service, people will ultimately vote with their wallets rather than their hearts. And would it surprise anyone if we see the same criticisms of Spotify – smaller artists getting dreadful royalty rates, the service bullying independent labels who don't sign up to these dreadful royalty rates, major artists getting preferential treatment – pop up with Tidal, too?
At the end of the day, the music industry is still fucked.