The promise and imperfection of digital music service Tidal

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The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is a Swiss lobbying organization that represents interests of record companies. They work to combat music piracy. You may recall them being repeatedly antagonized by the Pirate Bay.

Every year they issue a state-of-affairs industry report. This year’s saw global parity — for the first time ever — between digital & physical sales. People are moving from CDs to online-only. Streaming subscriptions are up 39%.

In light of those numbers folks like Jay Z are looking smart right now. Mr. Knowles recently purchased Tidal, a hifi streaming service that goes for $10/month.

Tidal poses the following question: what’s it worth to you to have (for example, no idea if they offer this) the highest-quality Emerson Quartet recordings, available across all your devices, whenever you like?

There’s already places to find that stuff. Torrents, Youtube, Pandora.

What Jay Z and partners like Madonna and (good lord) Chris Martin are hoping is that you’ll wear down. You’ll get tired of chasing pristine recordings. You’ll get exasperated when that glitchy La Mer upload cuts out right before a good part. You won’t want to buy CDs, either. You want good music in your ears, now, no questions asked.

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This is a backlash to 1. the Napster era, and 2. the drunken free-music era we’re currently in. Hov is hoping the sales unit will change from the antiquated album to a month’s worth of access. It’s the Netflix-ization of musical content.

Right now music streaming services are essentially artist-agnostic. Youtube hosts almost all the music you can think of, just let them plop an ad before it. Ditto Spotify.

There are major advantages to paid music services. If you’ve got a soul-sucking commute hearing New World Symphony at 320 kbps, ad-free, might just sustain your will to live. If you’re marathon training why not cue up six pristine Bartok quartets to get you through?

The problem is that we’re used to getting this for free. And Mr. Carter, if you think Tidal’s going to bump you into that Billionaire Boys Club you need to make it essential — like paying the gas bill, and buying the weekly wine supply. Remember when The Sopranos made HBO a requisite subscription? And Cinemax’s Max After Dark made you happy hotels carried that premium cable package? (jkjk) That’s the vision you need to conjure.

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Today’s golden acronym: FOMO. Fear of missing out. What’s the penalty for not signing up? Do you miss sweet artist videos, or members-only first looks at project releases? Will there be podcasts exclusive to that platform? Will you stream live events there (like a festival set) you can’t get anywhere else?

To me the vision is still half-baked.

The only subscriptions I carry are Netflix & extremely basic cable (low key the best entertainment, shout out to telenovelas & Liga MX), as well as the WWE Network (to get Wrestlemania for $10, I’ll cancel soon). Adding a subscription on top of those is a tough ask.

But go back in your time machine, H.G. Wells. Remember when a CD cost $20? Tidal costs ~$120/year. Six CDs set you back that much in the go-go Nineties. (For what it’s worth, Tidal also pays artists a higher-percentage royalty, too.) For some people, that might be a tempting offer.

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