Photo courtesy of Radio Survivor
Yesterday at 5 p.m. EDT, to much fanfare and anticipation, the music streaming service Tidal was launched – or rather, relaunched. Mogul and rapper Jay Z has spearheaded the initiative, and the amount of star power packed into his press conference was impressive, but what does the revamped Tidal service mean for the music industry, and more importantly, for the consumer?
TIDAL: A Brief History
Scandinavian tech company Aspiro, which was founded in 1998, launched TIDAL in 2014, a complement to their other streaming service WiMP, which was launched in 2010. Throughout Aspiro’s history, the company has acquired various smaller tech startups, numbering at least 13 in total between 2000 and 2008. As of January 30 of this year, Aspiro announced a $56 million takeover bid from Project Panther Bidco, Ltd. Project Panther is indirectly owned and controlled by Shawn Carter, aka, Jay Z. While some shareholders objected to the takeover, claiming it undervalued the growth potential of Aspiro, the bid was accepted on March 13, 2015, with over 90% of shareholders in favor of the acquisition.
TIDAL itself is a relatively young streaming service. What differentiates it from other similar streaming services is that it boasts lossless audio streaming and HD video (currently available only to TIDAL HiFi subscribers), with over 25 million tracks and 75,000 music videos at its disposal at this point in time, with plans to increase the media library. Unlike many other competitors, however, TIDAL is a subscription-only service. Their base-plan, TIDAL Premium, will cost you $9.99 per month, with an option to upgrade to the more high-definition TIDAL HiFi for $19.99 monthly.
TIDAL: Star Power in Numbers
Part of what makes TIDAL “special” was the dramatic public showing of musician support – and ownership. On Monday afternoon, musicians as disparate as Rihanna and Arcade Fire, Madonna and Jason Aldean all signed on to become part owners in the TIDAL service. Touted as a move toward regaining artistic control and integrity over their music, the musicians and performers who joined Jay Z in his venture are also hoping to profit significantly from their decision. (What, did you think Taylor Swift pulling her music from Spotify last year was a coincidence? Jay Z and Beyonce attended her birthday party in December – I seriously doubt they chatted about her Scottish fold kitties over cake and ice cream, but I’ve been wrong before.)
Better birthday than yours. Photo courtesy of People
If TIDAL takes off – that is, if consumers opt for a pay subscription streaming service over the free varieties – return on investment for these artists could change the music industry, but just how much will remain to be seen. What is important to note is that, like Miss Swift before them, the potential for other artists to pull their music from services like Spotify and Pandora and possibly even iTunes is quite high, all in order to lockdown their work and retain the ability to profit from it at a margin they have more control over. One artist pointed out that the royalties TIDAL pays are three times that of Spotify, and with plagiarism and piracy of intellectual property so easy and prevalent today, it’s really no surprise that musicians are moving in this direction.
Moreover, the intimate relationship with musicians that TIDAL is cultivating means subscribers can get immediate access to the newest music from their favorite artists. If Jack White writes a song on Monday, his fans will likely be able to stream it the second he pushes “publish.” Talk about instant gratification.
What TIDAL Means for Music
Despite questions on whether consumers will dive into the TIDAL pool (sorry, we like puns around here), TIDAL’s relaunch underscores that streaming media is now the norm. No longer the supplemental form of music and movie consumption, streaming media isn’t the wave of the future, it’s the way we listen and watch across the board. From Netflix to Hulu, HBO Go to iTunes, we now want our media delivered to our devices on demand – no waiting, no buying physical product, and no real commitment.
As for the potential success of TIDAL, we’ll have to wait and see, but looking at the sheer number and variety of artists brought aboard as part owners, it’s hard to imagine the venture won’t be commercially viable. It’s interesting to see a return to artist-controlled production and dissemination of media, but it’s been attempted before; Charlie Chaplin helped form United Artists production company in 1919 under the auspices that actors and directors could control their own creative output. The difference, of course, is that UA wasn't charging their fans a subscription fee. UA went public in 1957, and Transamerica Corporation grabbed up huge portions of the company by the 1960s, and United Artists is now majority owned by MGM Holdings, you know, one of those giant production companies that the actors were attempting to fight against almost a century ago.