Tidal - the future of music or lining Jay Z's pockets?

It’s been hailed as “the beginning of a new era”, but can music streaming service Tidal really live up to the hype? EDGAR investigates.

Peter Iantorno April 5, 2015

Last week the social media profiles of some of the world's top musicians all turned the same bright shade of turquoise. The hashtag #TIDALforALL spread through Twitter like wildfire, as millions of fans the world over shared the message.

But what was this mysterious cause that had the world coming together? Save the oceans? Cut carbon emissions? Not quite. Described as "historic", "a great movement", "a game-changer", "the beginning of a new era", and even "the last stand", the seemingly epic cause that swept the globe last week was, in fact, the launch of a new music streaming service, headed by rapper Jay Z, who recently bought the company for $56 million, and his celebrity chums.

Called Tidal, the concept is quite simple: to change the music industry beyond all recognition. The company is aiming to do this by taking the power from the record labels and putting it back into the hands of those who the industry simply couldn't do without - the artists. In basic terms, it's a premium music streaming service that claims to pass on more of its profits to the people making the music.

At first glance this sounds great, and exactly what the flagging music industry needs, after being sucked dry by greedy record labels and the unstoppable rise of illegal downloading and pirate websites. But will Tidal help up-and-coming artists earn some much-deserved payment for their work in their time of need? Or will it serve only as a money-making tool for the already wildly rich elite? Unfortunately, it appears the latter is far more likely. Here's why: Jay-z smoking cigarThe rich get richer
The musicians currently involved with Tidal (so the likes of Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys, Jack White, Rihanna and, of course, Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce) each own three per cent of the company. As for the smaller indie acts who sign up to the service later, well, there are only so many three per cents you can give out until you reach 100, and unfortunately for them, Jay Z and his pals have already accounted for the vast majority of it.

The upshot of this whole so-called revolutionary service set to change the music industry forever is that if it does become a success, the mega-rich stars who got in on the ground level get even richer, while the small-time acts who this service is purportedly aimed at helping have to make do with a possibly even smaller piece of the pie than they had before.

OK, you may say, rich and powerful people getting richer and more powerful is nothing new, but what leaves an especially bad taste in the mouth is the way the whole thing has been marketed. These massively rich stars have portrayed the campaign as some sort of social rights movement, helping to bring music back to the people and change the landscape of the industry forever, when to all intents and purposes it looks like the main benefit will be yet more cash in Jay Z and Beyonce's joint account, which is already worth more than $1 billion. jay-z and beyonce. And even away from the moral wrangling of how it's promoted, there are serious question marks over whether the service is worth the money anyway. Priced at $9.99 per month for the basic package, or $19.99 per month for the premium, and with no free ad-supported version, it's by far the priciest of the music-streaming services available.

And if Tidal does manage to tie-down many of the major artists exclusively as it plans to, the fear among experts and even some artists themselves - including British singer Lily Allen, who spoke out against the service recently - is that people unwilling to shell out the inflated subscription costs will be driven in their droves to illegal streaming sites to get their fix of their favourite singers, meaning another blow to those up-and-coming artists at the bottom of the ladder.

One thing that does appear to be in Tidal's favour is the increase in sound-quality, and one of the biggest boasts of the company is that its $19.99 top-end package allows users to listen to 'lossless high-fidelity sound', meaning its the natural choice for real fans of real music. Now, anyone who considers himself an audiophile can't deny that the prospect of listening to superior sound quality has to be a good thing, and a good thing worth paying extra for.

However, there's just one thing that Tidal hasn't mentioned: this revolutionary 'lossless' sound is, in actual fact, just the same sound quality that can be achieved from the standard, run-of-the-mill CD. Tidal launchThat's right, the old compact disc we disregarded as an ancient relic a decade ago is just as high-quality as this brand-spanking-new $20-per-month service. And the other thing ill-informed subscribers to the service won't be aware of is that if they're listening to the music using basic speakers or headphones (Beats by Dre, anyone?) then the stream quality of the music won't make a blind bit of difference anyway!

But as vociferous as the opposition is, the 'Tidal' wave of support from the hoards of loyal fans who will back their favourite artists to the hilt, unquestioning of the their methods or motives, is all-conquering. And it must be said that for people who do have decent audio equipment and do enjoy the finer details of music, the convenience of an entire library of CD-quality music at hand, does sound tempting.

However, with all the evidence suggesting that the company, which is portrayed as some kind of altruistic pursuit to bring music back to the people by Jay Z and the other millionaire investors, is just going to make the world's richest music stars even richer, the growing skepticism surrounding Tidal could eventually be its undoing.