Monday, March 30, 2015

Tidal: Nothing New

Tidal, the streaming music service Jay Z just bought, has "officially" launched. The overblown video they provided is a good example of some of the problems with today's music business.

Here's a bunch of artists talking about "a new world", "changing the course of history", "last stands" and "human art" and other stuff that sounds really good, if a bit incoherent (like some of the artists themselves, I suppose).

And yet, it says absolutely nothing about what Tidal is, or why their involvement matters, or what they are actually going to do to change things.

So to be clear: Tidal is just like every other digital music subscription service launched since Rhapsody 1.0 hit the world 15 years ago. It's got the same features, apps, limitations, rules, and catalog as Spotify, Rhapsody, RDIO, Deezer, Beats, and everybody else. Their plan for differentiation? Exclusive content and artist partnerships. Just like everyone else.

Tidal does have one difference: instead of $10 per month, you'll pay $20 per month (if you want the special "lossless" audio option)...and Tidal even offers the same $10 per month pricing if you don't need lossless streaming. They even call it "Premium", just like...well, you get the idea.

It leads one to believe the deals and business model behind Tidal are also not substantially different from any of the other music services, which means prospects for long term survival are not good.

Lossless (or HD or high quality) audio is not a new idea (or even a particularly good one) for streaming services.

I'm trying to figure out why that's revolutionary. There's been no disclosure of how Tidal's going to use that extra money to compensate artists. For all you know, it's going right into Jay Z's pocket (or the pockets of the other artists who are "part owners"), or for jet fuel or crazy salaries.

Or for paying fees to the artists standing uncomfortably on this stage listening to Alicia Keys talk.

For all the talk of empowering artists and creativity, apparently that money is not going to pay licensing fees for other artists -- The Haxan Cloak is claiming Tidal's very video is using his music without compensation or permission. The irony...

So we're left with one thing: Tidal is "special" because some artists are part owners. It is then difficult to take any of their previous comments about the "problems" of the digital music business seriously: They're offering the same product, with the same pricing, deals, economics, and features, as everyone else. But suddenly it's OK because they are the ones at the helm.

In the end, this is a commodity with some really expensive marketing wrapped around it:
Tidal is the SmartWater of digital music services.

It's also part of the current vogue of celebrity endorsed/powered/designed/owned services, including the Dre/Trent Reznor Beats (and future Apple service), Neil Young's Pono, and the various crazy things people like Will.I.Am, Lady Gaga, and more have been paid to do by hip companies like HP and Intel. For the next few years at least, celebrities will be able to leverage their star power and rep for advisory positions and paychecks to lend new services legitimacy.

I wish them all the best of luck.

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