Off the record: Tidal raises questions of fan exploitation

By: Sam Fatula | A&E Editor

With regards to streaming music via the internet, consumerists’ wants have been the constant that fuels the respective platform with a steady pulse. Whether listeners choose to enjoy their music on Spotify, Google Play Music or even YouTube, preferences in source is typically associated with the cost of subscription.

Playback quality is usually a secondary consideration for the casual music fan. However, when consumer giants like Jay Z, Rihanna and Daft Punk came together last week to argue that song quality should have a higher emphasis in conjunction to streaming services, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate standards of listening. Introducing Tidal; a brand new streaming service that provides higher fidelity listening, exclusive audio and video content, artist-crafted playlists and frequent staff newsletters. This, all for a startling $20 per month subscription rate.

At an initial glance, Tidal looks nothing more than a business opportunity for artists who have already made millions in the music industry. It certainly seemed that way, when a panel that was made up of the most influential musicians in today’s society advocated for unknown artists that are not receiving enough money for their craft.

Admittedly, I had my share of doubts when I heard about the $20 price tag that accompanies a monthly subscription. And considering that I currently pay $10 per month on Google Play Music that allocates 320 kilobytes per second for song playback, Tidal seemed like a contemporary version of the beginning plot of Robin Hood. I needed to find out for myself just how good Tidal can potentially be.

As with most services that undergo their inaugural beginnings, Tidal does not go without heavy criticisms. Headlining the website is the panel that was featured last week, including Beyoncé, Daft Punk, Rihanna and Jack White, just to name a few. Besides offering never-before-seen exclusives via the service, it fulfills the stereotypes that critics are having; “the rich getting richer.”

While this argument is logical, it doesn’t necessarily hold much weight. In order to start up a service that has a highly competitive marketplace, you need something to reel in a crowd to make a statement. If that means having to promote the animated film, Home’s soundtrack which stars Rihanna, then you do it. Why? Because Rihanna is one of the largest commercial successes in the world. #TIDALforALL was trending across the globe not because it’s a new streaming service, but because it was supported by these famous acts.

Next, how different can these high fidelity tracks sound in comparison to other services? The truth is that the difference between Tidal’s promoted HiFi sound, even with studio headphones, is minor compared to something like Google Play Music. From what I’ve experienced, there is barely a distinction. Although I thought Tidal’s songs were a little clearer in some instances, it does not qualify enough for double the price of subscription. Drum sequences sound a bit nicer and less distorted, but otherwise not many will know the difference between HiFi and 320 kb/s.

After doing some further digging through Tidal’s database though, the promotion of indie artists, despite popular belief, does exist. In fact, one of the more interesting facets like artist-crafted playlists features bands like Touché Amoré and The Hives. These bands put together playlists of around 20 songs each that appeals to fans of genres that stray away from the mainstream. Plus the aforementioned exclusives like a 70-minute plus short film starring Daft Punk, Tidal has its advantages in the streaming service game.

Is Tidal perfect? No. In fact, I would go as far as to say that $20 per month, even following investigation, is simply too expensive. Given the HiFi sound that is ultimately ineffective, you are really paying more for just exclusive videos and playlists. For me, that doesn’t sway me to double my payment and leave Google Play. Tidal may be overpriced, but it is not susceptible to the accusations that critics are giving the service. Given time, Tidal may convince listeners that playback quality and exclusives are worth paying for over free music.

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