The World's interest in Tidal began a couple of months ago when it was announced that Jay Z was to buy it's parent company Aspiro. That interest culminated yesterday when a much anticipated press conference took place where it was to be revealed just what Jay-Z's plans for the service were, and the World would learn how Tidal was to take down Spotify.
Except that didn't happen, instead we watched a procession of some of the World's most famous, and highly paid artists and an unclear, and contradicting speech from Alicia Keys. And therein lies the problem.
The first thing Tidal needs to do before it presents a threat to anyone is to sort out it's messaging. On one hand it's positioning itself as 'for the people, by the people' while simultaneously aiming at the higher end of the market referring to itself as the 'ideal music service for those who care about quality'.
They've also had trouble in making it clear that there are now two paid tiers, with everyone's attention currently focused on the $19.99 they would have to pay a month. In fact, the 'premium' option is $9.99, the same as Spotify. The difference between the tiers is the sound quality, with the $9.99 Premium option coming with 'standard' sound quality and the $19.99 option coming with 'Loseless High Fidelity' sound quality.
I would question the amount of people that would be prepared to pay twice the price for something that very few people would be able to tell the difference on. Also, if you want to hear higher sound quality, would you not just invest in a better pair of headphones? As, let's face it, the majority of people streaming Music on Tidal will be using the free pair that came with their phone.
It's also unclear just how Tidal is offering something different than Spotify, as they appear to be operating the same business model, just without a free tier. How will they ensure artists benefit more than they currently do on Spotify? Jay Z may be rich, but his resources are not a bottomless pit, and I'm sure he didn't buy Aspiro to operate it as a charity, quite the opposite, so just how will he be compensating the artists? The maths don't appear to add up.
They appear to feel slighted by technology, and that their battle is against technology companies who they feel have turned them into commodities rather than artists, Tidal, they believe, is their chance to turn the tide (no pun intended) back to favour them. This strong stance against technology is an odd one, as it is technology that could potentially enable them to offer a true differential with an advancement in sound quality available at a lower price model. Although, it would be easy to substitute the word 'technology' with 'Spotify' to get the point they were really making.
But, while it is still unclear as to whether this is their intention, if Tidal do make music of the artists who turned out in force yesterday exclusive to the platform, then it won't be Spotify they present a danger to, it will be piracy. Illegal downloads will increase, as rightly or wrongly a large proportion of people still believe they should be able to hear their favourite artists without paying for the pleasure of doing so.
And in any case, it's a little hard to swallow about it all being about fairness and equality for artists, when the combined net worth of the artists on stage is probably higher than half of the World's Countries.
The truth is, despite artists not liking Spotify's free tier, the reality is, it has had a dramatic effect on the decrease of illegal downloads. And the point that the artists seem to be missing is that it's not the free tier that's costing them money, it's their distribution deals with the labels, the same deals that will apply when they stream their music on Tidal instead of Spotify.
The biggest problem that Tidal has is that they've misjudged the public's mood. Quite simply, enough people don't care that artists are getting a rough deal. That may sound harsh, but that's the reality. You can't build an offering or a company around something that very little people care about. The #TidalforNOONE hashtag that became trending after the announcement is proof of that, despite Alicia Keys recurring insistence that Tidal is a better option 'for everyone'. Ultimately, if people really cared about artists getting a raw deal then sites such as Napster and The Pirate Bay would never have been so popular.
Despite it's attempts at positioning itself as an alternative, because of it's business model, there is no denying that Tidal is not an alternative, and is simply a direct competitor to Spotify. A competitor, that despite a lot of recent bluster only has 35,000 paying customers compared to Spotify's 15 million.
Because of it's star power, Tidal does have the chance to make a difference in the industry but the message needs to be clearer, and the offering tighter. For a real difference to be made, the artists that have come together need to do something truly revolutionary, like leave their labels and go it alone, not just switch streaming platforms.