Jay’s Blue Heaven

Screen-Shot-2015-03-30-at-18.01.30Yesterday, with the kind of fanfare he most likely does everything with, Jay Z announced the re-launching of Tidal, a streaming music service he bought for $65 million USDs a few months ago. Tidal is meant to fend off the evil streaming over lord, Spotify. Some of Jay’s closest friends, Kanye, RiRi, Nicki and more pledged support via Twitter and then in person, joining Jay at an event in New York City. You can tell it was serious because My Girl RiRi took her best shot at a power suit.

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Jack White even braved the late afternoon sun to get in on the action, which is impressive because you know…he’s like…well..

rihanna-tidal

So what is Tidal? Why should you care about Tidal? Should you get in on the action or stick with the devil you know (Spotify or Pandora) instead of the devil you don’t? Well let’s start with what the main draw of Tidal is…

Introducing the first music streaming service that combines the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly Curated Editorial.

Now my first thought was, wait, the sound quality on Spotify sucks? Because that’s kind of what is implied here and I honestly hadn’t noticed. To which my next thought was- should I have? Because I have never thought once about the sound quality of Spotify. I’ve probably thought more about finding obscure albums from my formative years than I had thought about whether or not Blues Traveler’s Four sounded truly dope or not. But I guess that’s where Jay Z and I differ, he thinks about sound quality, I think about sound quantity.

Man, I’ll never become a mogul with such backwards ass thinking. My wife is going to be pissed.

So the sound quality of Spotify is sub par- that is essentially the draw of Tidal. Their sound quality is top notch and as a result, you’ll be down to pay for that quality. Because you’ll be paying. No free rides with Tidal. I mean, do these guys look like the kind of dudes who are cool with free rides?

tidal-daft-punk-jay-z-1No, no they don’t.

So unlike our old friend Spotify, which offers a free option, Tidal’s two options come with price tags.

TIDAL Premium: $9.99 USD (a month): standard sound quality, high def music videos, expertly curated editorial
TIDAL HiFi: $19.99 USD (a month): lossless high fidelity sound quality, high def music videos, expertly curated editorial

For reference sake, Spotify premium is $9.99 a month and with that comes the ability to play music offline on your mobile device (i.e. juno chop those data issues,) on demand music with no adds (just know that Lowes has all of your home improvement needs covered) and the ability to skip a song at any time (because Magic Man got totes annoying after awhile.) Regular plain Jane Spotify essentially means ads, a skip limit and the confines of the World Wide Web. Spotify says nothing about sound quality…for now at least. Anyone want to bet a USD that there will be something included on their site by this time next week? Pandora is included in this fracas as well, but whatever, Pandora is fine. Leave Pandora alone Jay Z. Pandora never hurt anyone except those people irrevocably damaged by repetitiveness.

Back to this sound quality thing, I’m hearing you Tidal when you say that your sound quality is baller, but I’m also looking at two small speakers hooked up to my computer that are definitely not baller. So how does this work? Isn’t the quality of your sound ultimately dependent on the quality of my speakers or am I missing something here? Based on this image…

…I’m going to need whatever the hell a DAC is. I know a guy named Dak, but not a machine called DAC. So unless I’m missing something, it seems that regardless of the plan you get, the expenses don’t end with the monthly charges. I also want to reiterate that my speakers don’t even come close to resembling those.

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And I’m pretty sure DAC is not another word for half full can of Altoids.

Beyond sound though, the driving force behind Tidal is to help these poor, starving musicians out. The beef with Spotify is that artists make jack squat from it, which is why people like the Black Keys and Taylor Swift have bucked the trend of allowing their albums to be streamed. And you know, I get that. You create something, you want to be compensated for it. So on that front, I can understand and sympathize with Jay and his crew, when Jay clumsily argues that “Water is free. Music is $6 but no one wants to pay for music. You should drink free water from the tap—it’s a beautiful thing,” Jay Z told the New York Times. “And if you want to hear the most beautiful song, then support the artist.” Actually, in most parts of the country, water from the tap is far from a beautiful thing. And as a result, God supplied us with various forms of Brita filters, which in effect means that actually Jigga Man, water isn’t free. But that’s getting hung up on details. Jay Z releases an album, Jay Z wants to make money from said album. Fair enough.

But doesn’t it come off a little like whining? Like, a little?

Here’s a fun fact: three of the ladies joining Jay on stage yesterday, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and My Girl RiRi, are three of the most streamed female artists on Spotify. So while yes, maybe they aren’t making as much money as they should, they are still reaching plenty of people. Probably more, because you know, shit is free. That is where I think the argument about the evils of Spotify hit a stumbling block. It’s easy for Taylor Swift or the Keys to pull their music and put the kabosh on free streaming. They have radio support and die hard fans who will pony up $10 for their album ($18 for the deluxe version that includes two more songs.) But that is an incredibly small percentage and I would bet that for every Taylor Swift, there are 1,000 bands/artists out there who are begrudgingly okay with Spotify because while yes, it earns them pennies, it also exposes them to way more people than they would have been exposed to in the dark days before Spotify. So there are some benefits to Spotify and I don’t think that should be ignored. I don’t play in a band anymore, but if I did, I would be cool with having an album of mine on Spotify because it would mean that potentially more people could hear it, which would in turn lead to more gigs*. Things change and unfortunately for musicians, something that has changed in recent years is the drying up of the revenue stream created by album sales. As long as this damn Internet is around, this isn’t going to change. So might as well buck up, embrace the new reality and make the best of it.

*ideally

And here’s another thing, if Jay Z and his super friends want to gripe about the lack of money they are getting from Spotify- take it up with Spotify, not your fans, which is why to me, Tidal feels like kind of a bum deal for fans. We’re collateral damage in that bands are pissed at Spotify for not paying them enough, so instead of finding a way to keep their music free, or even moderately priced, they’re doing something like creating Tidal, which doesn’t really seem like a compromise at all. I bet a lot of these problems could be cured if somehow the magic number for paying for streaming music was closer to 5 bucks than 10. But that’s just me. I’ll never be a mogul remember?

Tidal might end up being a success. It might end up changing the world just like Brita filters did. But it seems to me that the ones who are going to get left out are the struggling indie bands who were and are able to adapt to the changing landscape and the evolving ways music is consumed. They’re taking it to the streets, not the board rooms. They’ve seen album sales bottom out, but in response, these bands aren’t doing things like dropping an album into your phone whether you want it or not or releasing an album through an app on a certain kind of phone.

It pains me to say this, because I consider Jay a friend- but this last move, this Tidal thing, seems like a rich man’s move; something out of touch with normal people. As long as Spotify keeps the free option, I don’t see much changing. People will still go with Spotify because a free option will always be more appealing, regardless of what comes with the non-free option. This will force Tidal to make a choice- create a free option or keep on trucking, stubbornly assuming and believing that people will eventually come around.

But if they don’t, if people don’t flock to Tidal, then what’s next? How will Jay Z and his super friends respond?

At this point, I only ask you one thing, Jay.

Stay away from Soundcloud.

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