Tidal makes small waves in music streaming

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By Boswell Hutson

I grew up listening to music. During my time in high school (when I was a clerk in a local record store), the idea of a streaming program like Spotify or Beats Music, where all music could be accessed at the drop of a hat, was something like a dream. Today, outside of exceptional albums, which I buy on vinyl, Spotify seems to dominate my music-listening habit. Costing only $5 a month for students and hosting thousands of artists and albums, it’s really hard to beat, despite the controversy regarding their payment of artists.

Last week, however, artists like Rihanna, Jay-Z, Coldplay and Beyoncé announced a new streaming service by the name of Tidal, which promised to bring exclusive, new content and super-high quality streams to all of its subscribers. Here’s the kicker, though. For the highest quality package, a consumer must pay $20 a month for the service, or $10 for the standard quality package, with no free listening option.

I love music — and I believe artists deserve to get paid, but at the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart, if there’s one thing that can make me annoyed about music, it’s corporate manipulation. The music streaming market is already pretty packed with each major technology entity’s service coming right after the next. Apple’s Beats Music is currently in development, along with Spotify, Google Play, Rdio and Last.fm. Of course, competition is welcome – and in theory this should be beneficial to the consumer.

I don’t purport to be an expert in capitalism, but it seems like if Tidal lacked celebrity endorsement, it would merely be labeled just an overpriced version of what already exists, miring it in failure. Twenty bucks isn’t ridiculous – it’s roughly the same price I’d pay for a new album on the day of release. But for streaming, when a student can get a Spotify subscription for $5, it just doesn’t make sense to stray away.

Perhaps the standard high quality of music advertised by Tidal is more impressive than any other streaming service on the market, but it’s only accessible to those paying for the most expensive plan, and even then, as cynical as it sounds, I hesitate to believe that a difference in quality would be recognizable by the average consumer. Tidal also boasts “high definition music videos and expertly curated editorial,” and by the looks of their ad campaign, it would lead you to believe that these things don’t exist already.

These added features on Tidal, truthfully, seem more hollow than anything else. All one needs to do is click over to YouTube to see music videos in 1080p HD quality for free. If anyone needs directions to a plethora of blogs and magazines with expertly crafted editorial content, I’d be happy to supply them with examples fulfilling that need and whose articles are available for free online.

Where Tidal could make waves (Please forgive me. I couldn’t resist,) is in a situation where its super high-quality music, videos and editorials become exclusive to the app. If the artists who apparently have a stake in Tidal start to release music exclusively for the site, then the music would not be for all (as the app’s hashtag trend suggests) but rather only those who are willing to shell out enough cash every month to reap the benefits.

There is also fear surrounding the way Tidal will treat less-popular artists. Justin Peters, a former campus representative for Spotify and Illini Media employee, doesn’t think Tidal is as appreciative of those smaller artists.

“I think Tidal really only caters to the big names in the industry,” said Peters, senior in FAA. “I’ve found so many lesser-known artists through Spotify, and I don’t think they’re worried as much about getting fair pay as they are getting attention.”

For all the flashy news conferences, celebrities changing their profile pictures to blue squares on social media and massive names attached to the movement, Tidal initially seemed like a really cool idea. Their PR person deserves a raise. But in actuality, it’s a product that appears too inflated to stay competitive with what already exists, and arguably does so at the cost of the consumer.

I want artists to be able to stand behind music streaming services, but I want them to be able to do it without using gimmicks or paid endorsements.

At the end of the day, as a consumer, Tidal seems less and less like a new and innovative take on streaming, and more and more like a way for celebrities to profit off anti-Spotify sentiment with a hint of questionable PR campaigning. It’s apparently the same exact product, repackaged with “artist approval” and sold at a 400 percent mark-up. I’m sorry, Jay Z. I really liked “Reasonable Doubt” and sometimes I even root for the Brooklyn Nets (mostly because of Deron Williams), but I really don’t think you hit the nail on the head this time.

Boswell is a senior in LAS.

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