Nearly every major online tech and music publication has panned TIDAL, Jay-Z’s new music streaming service..
But they’re wrong.
Let me explain.
I don’t like TIDAL more than any other person among the multitude of naysayers, I just hate TIDAL for different reasons. I loathe what TIDAL stands for, a hypocritical industry based on greed, stifling of progress, simultaneously disconnected from and seemingly hell-bent on pickpocketing the consumer.
TIDAL has aroused ire with something far worse than merely botching a product launch. TIDAL has alienated the tech industry, journalists and potential consumers unnecessarily, widening an ever-increasing chasm between professional musicians and their audience. Having a handful of superstars, worth a combined $3 billion dollars, onstage touting their increased royalty rates, with an economically battered Joe Consumer footing the bill, is not a good look. The biggest crime of TIDAL’s mishandled debut? Asking the customer to spend more money without offering a product that clearly benefits the audience. When’s the last time a Taco Bell aired a commercial where you weren’t sure what they were selling, except that it would cost you more money? Never.
TIDAL would be comical if it weren’t symptomatic of a disinterested industry, deservedly rotting from its core, due to a refusal to care for and about the customer. The Rotting Industry that I’m referring to specifically is the business of Recorded Music.
The current crisis didn’t happen overnight, it’s taken 33 years for things to get this bad.
In 1982, the audio CD from Philips Electronics N.V. and Sony Corporation is introduced commercially. Without completely delving into technological gobbledygook, a new format was born, with a dynamic range of about 90 db, as opposed to 70 db for phonograph records, which were then CD’s main competitor. Skipping ahead, we know that the CD successfully usurped all other physical formats for upwards of 20 years. The Compact Disc was an admirable achievement, it sounded noticeably different, not just to audiophiles. Despite sacrificing the ability to record material on the readily available, cheaper Cassette format, the CD was able to achieve ubiquity. Unlike other also-ran formats on the historical scrapheap (What it is, 8 track deck? MiniDisc what’s up?) the success of CDs was a function of the product itself, beyond marketing efforts. CDs sounded, looked, felt and even stored differently, spawning ancillary product categories like storage towers, cases, and cleaners. These products were new for the consumer, who ponied up their dough and purchased. Box sets, collectors editions, bonus tracks and DVD Rom extras added novelty.
Fast forward 33 years, through the collapse of physical retailers, the dawn of Digital, and the Compact Disc is still the physical method of choice for the Recorded Music industry to sell its product. It’s 33 years later and they’re selling us the same basic product. Huh? Actually the industry’s latest advance in physical sales is to slowly reintroduce Vinyl. Now THAT’S almost diabolically clever. Kids are out there paying $20 at Urban Outfitters for copies of Rumours that wouldn’t sell for $4 at the thrift store 5 years ago. Amazon now bills new physical releases under the header “CDs and Vinyl”.
Coincidentally, the big news there is Van Halen’s new live record. Boy, it really does feel like 1982. Surprisingly, the exaggerated upsurge in sales of the recycled and technically feeble Vinyl format, is what passes for good news in the Recorded Music industry. Nostalgia really isn’t what it used to be. Someone tell these pilgrims to make some progress.
Which brings us back to the humble Compact Disc and TIDAL, the lamentable streaming service.
TIDAL is offering the consumer what exactly? Two levels of audio quality to choose from: the same compressed-file “lossy” MP3 quality that consumers already know and love (at a VERY premium $10/month), and the high fidelity “lossless” audio quality that TIDAL assures us will sound every ‘bit’ ‘as good as a Compact Disc’, for twice the price ($20/month).
You get the same sound quality as a physical medium that was cutting edge in 1982.
Of course, that’s assumes you’re not listening on a mobile IOS OR Android device- in which case you’re not going to hear much difference regardless of how much you’ve spent.
Say what you will about the Fast Food industry- there’s at least an attempt to make the customer feel heard and reflect current needs. I.e. obesity in the news, those chicken parts are available without breading. Economic crisis? Dollar menu offerings.
The Recorded Music industry lobbies Congress for unnatural protections, which isn’t unique, look no further than the banking and automobile businesses. What is unique however, is the staunch refusal of the Recorded Music industry to advance technologically, unlike automobiles and banks, which offer far more advanced customer experiences than they did in 1982.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, instead of raising the bar, the Recorded Music industry has offered few updates or improvements in the way of customer care, service, or product innovation. Their business strategy seems to be to piggyback off of everyone else’s innovations, cannibalizing the merchandise, live concert, artist management, and licensing businesses. Dubious litigation of questionable intellectual property rights seems to be another popular strategy for earning money.
Bizarrely, the Recorded Music industry boasts a very high proportion of Research and Development dollars. Unfortunately I can’t figure out what people are developing and researching in terms of saleable products. Artist development seems at an all-time low and makers of hardware like headphones and speakers and technology firms, not the Recorded Music industry, introduce intriguing new products. As far as the consumer is concerned, manufacturers of cables do more interesting things with the sound of music than the people responsible for making and selling the recordings. Remember, Jay-Z and the Recorded Music industry are in business, they’re here to sell us a product on massive levels. These aren’t songsmiths crafting experimental tunes in their mom’s basement, this is Big Business with Big Corporate interests. And yes, that’s important. Apple doesn’t try to sell us products based on their pay scale, they sell us products based on their merits and customers desires and needs. So why are these TIDAL people trying to guilt us into spending for questionable product? Why are they hiding behind the label of Artiste, yet behaving like aggressive panhandlers? The exclusive TIDAL stream of Rihanna’s song titled “Bitch Better Have My Money” rang a bit too true.
Beats headphones, despite questions about technological heritage and pricing, sound audibly different, they’re also easily identifiable and stylish, hence their ubiquity. Now teamed in a Streaming service, Beats and Apple will likely produce a unique product; hardware is said to be a major component
The most interesting advances in Artists’ communication with their audiences i.e. customers are a direct result of technological innovations like Twitter that record companies did nothing to develop. TIDAL represents little more than selfish grab at the streaming business, even if it was purchased by Jay-Z and company, because it simply treats customers as an afterthought, or worse, an ATM. Enough, already, customer dollars are earned not guaranteed, as in every other business.
Don’t feel guilty for not patronizing a business that has nothing to offer, and doesn’t care about you, there are organizations that need charity more than Roc Nation.