As much as I love to hate Tidal, that’s only because it actually makes me sad. It’s a platform where some of my most favorite artists live, namely Beyoncé and Prince (for now), but I don’t listen to those artists very often anymore. It feels like they’re out on some far corner of the Internet where I don’t go, and not only do I not want to go there, but it seems like the content creators whose work lives there don’t care whether I spend time listening to them or not. Beyoncé is so far out of my regular music-consumption-habit-zone I completely forgot about the Formation World Tour, a concert I wanted to go to so badly I could cry thinking about it, but whose memory slipped through the cracks of my oversaturated, media-filled mind because the fact is I don’t listen to Beyoncé enough to remember I care about seeing her.
Last March Tidal claimed that Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo – a six-week exclusive on the platform – had been streamed 250,000,000 times in ten days and that the platform had surpassed 3,000,000 subscribers. But the folks over at Music Business Worldwide did the math and those numbers don’t seem to add up. In fact, by year’s end, a study from Mark Mulligan of Midia Research found that TIDAL only had 1 million subscribers, a third of its claims. Further, there was a class action lawsuit filed by a fan in California over Pablo claiming Tidal falsely advertised that the album would never be available anywhere else thereby forcing Kanye fans to subscribe, only for Pablo to appear on every major platform just weeks later (no word as to whether the plaintiff bothered to screenshot these alleged false advertisements, but I’ll bet he’s wishing he had now). A Norweigan newspaper just published an article stating that Tidal could be inflating their reported numbers by as much as 300%. Between the blatantly padded numbers and their inability to connect with fans at a mass level, Tidal doesn’t feel relevant to me at all, yet without it I’m outside the beloved Beyhive not even remembering to look in.
But no longer does Tidal need exclusive content and falsely inflated numbers to bolster up this wet noodle of a platform! Now Sprint has purchased a 33% stake in the company, a deal reportedly worth around $200 million according to Billboard, and will theoretically allow Sprint’s 45 million customers access to Tidal’s services. However, it’s unclear whether Sprint’s customers will have access to Tidal for free or if it will be offered at a discounted rate. In 2014, Sprint partnered with Spotify for a bundle offering within its “Framily plans” that gave free access to Spotify’s catalog for six months and then a discounted $7.99/month for the next 18 months. It’s also impossible to tell how many of Sprint’s customers already subscribe to another streaming service and would be willing to switch to Tidal. Between Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud Go, I’m having a hard time deciding where to spend my monthly music streaming subscription budget. I’m also paying for Amazon and Netflix, and if my cousin changes her HBO GO login I’m going to have to pay for that, too. You can see why it’s difficult on a limited budget to choose one platform over another, and naturally whichever ones have the most to offer will get my money.
And going back to the genesis of Tidal when Jay Z announced the acquisition in March of 2015, as I recall the whole point of an artist-owned platform was to provide better pay-outs to rights-holders (and high fidelity listening, which I’m convinced no one cares about enough to pay $19.99 a month). It seemed counterintuitive to have only artists worth millions announcing the launch of a service that promises to pay struggling creatives more, but then just two months later, Digital Music News reported that Tidal was paying out nearly twice what was Spotify paying per stream. This was exciting news and at that time I was still riding my 90 day free Tidal trial so I wanted to be excited about using it. Try as I might, I never could muster up that excitement because I never saw the one thing I was looking for the hardest – visible support of up and coming independent artists. How much less douchey would that first star-studded press conference have been if next to every superstar stood an independent artist you’d never heard of whose career each superstar wanted to support? That’s the kind of authenticity fans crave from their heroes, but it never translated on the platform, at least not that I saw. In the immortal words of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, “I think they totally blew it by bringing out a bunch of millionaires and billionaires and propping them up onstage and then having them all complain about not being paid.” Yep, pretty much.
Tidal’s Frequently Asked Questions section on their website addresses these concerns in theory, touting programs like Tidal Rising, Tidal X (a concert), and Tidal Discovery, which claims to offer featured placements, custom video content, interviews with the artist, and live performance opportunities. When, where, and how those placements are made or that content is created I have no idea. Maybe my experience as an early subscriber was misleading, maybe it’s way better now and I’m the asshole. Fuse TV News Editor Zach Dionne is an avid Tidal user and says they have everything you need on the platform, it loads faster than Spotify, and he wants to support black business owners so suck it, Molly Hankins. He didn’t actually say that last part but I got his point regardless, there’s nothing keeping me on Spotify except my playlists and if Tidal has everything Spotify has plus Prince and Beyoncé then what am I waiting for?
I’ll let YouTube user Indiegirl007 describe my hesitation (please excuse typos and grammatical errors, this is copy/paste ok?!), “I understand that artists like to have control over their art, and the distribution of it. Because that’s how they make their living. But if you are a huge success like Beyoncé or Drake, or any of these other artists…millions of people are already laying down cash for your merchandise. ALL of your merchandise. Now you want to charge us just to watch a music video of you….which, was really part of your marketing and how you BECAME such a huge success. I think it’s unfair, I think it’s elitism, I think it’s ridiculous that you have fans, maybe even YOUNG fans who can not pay the ridiculous fee just to use a site that you, yourself, have put up, just so someone can watch a music video of you. You’re alienating your fans. This is going through way too much, just to listen to a damn song.” I share her sentiments albeit not as intensely, there seems to be a disconnect between the artist-friendly platform Tidal purports to be and the lack of artists reaping benefit from it, at least that we can see. If you’re an up and coming artist benefiting from being on Tidal please slide into my DMs immediately! Because as a fan, there’s no benefit for me except access to exclusive music and video content, which so far hasn’t been enough to get my $9.99 a month.
According to one particularly insightful YouTube user, to be on Tidal is to essentially be in the exclusive Beyoncé fan club with access to everything else you’d want to listen to, and from that perspective it’s a strong sell. “Get TIDAL. The Beyhive don’t want no basic bitches listening to lemonade,” RowanW wrote. Then Justforfun13 chimed in with, “I hate that she is so great but is an illuminati queen, how she makes it look good to do this stuff and is a ro-model to kids…” To me, part of being an effective ro-model is being authentic and until I see Tidal putting their focus on breaking new artists (Grimes and Janelle Monae do not count as new artists!), it’s not going to feel authentic enough for me to make the switch. I really want to watch their new video for “Venus Fly” based on the fifteen second clip below, but I can’t tell you how much more I’d want to watch if it were a collaboration between these known queens and a rad new artist I’ve never heard of.
What’s missing from Tidal is visible support of up and comers – it’s the authenticity-key that would unlock the whole thing for me. Allegedly that support already exists on the platform with streaming concerts, in-depth artist interviews, and thoughtful, diverse playlists, but that’s not something non-users are aware of. I’m beginning to think the way they came out of the gate put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and that prevailing attitude which I myself suffer from is its biggest barrier to entry. This arms race for exclusive content from superstars is only half of a successful equation, once Tidal breaks an artist the world falls in love with I predict our $9.99’s will be given up with gusto. There’s plenty of market share to be captured, only 40 million of Spotify’s nearly 100 million users pay for premium access, but Jay – you gotta show us that Tidal is a place where new superstars are born and not just a digital jerk-off fest you’re hosting with your wife and millionaire musician friends.