The Rising Tides of Digital Music Streaming

Is TIDAL really about the music?

Jay-Z said TIDAL aims to "strike an honest blow (at the music industry) and... make people wake up" about music and how it is paid for. The problem with the announcement was Jay-Z chose 16 very successful artists to launch the new platform. These artists also have something else in common; they all own the masters to the majority of their records. This means that when Beyoncé puts out a new album she can decide she only wants it on TIDAL, and she can decide to pull her old albums off of rival streaming platforms as Jay-Z did - pulling "Reasonable Doubt" off of Spotify. This freedom is something that most major labels control, something artists are expected to give up in order to have their music distributed. This is odd when we live in a world where global distribution can be achieved in a matter of minutes.

Supporting the independent artists

Independents have their own individual reasons for not signing to a label and in many cases it can hurt the discovery of their music. Many streaming platforms require 3rd-party distributor to upload rather than tracks coming directly from the artist. This further complicates the process and almost forces artists towards the label path. Soundcloud was hailed for eliminating this procedure but the service couldn't stay free forever - Soundcloud is expected to release a premium version next year. TIDAL has introduced two new ways for independent success, TIDAL Rising, which showcases indies near the top of the app and TIDAL Discovery which allows artists to publish directly to TIDAL. Are these two new additions enough to show the world TIDAL really is about the music? UPDATE: Artists that publish music on TIDAL retain 100% rights to their music.

It is still a numbers game

While TIDAL might be better for artists, they still only have around ~~17,000 subscribers~~ (UPDATE: Jay-Z claims 770k), compared to Spotify's 45m free - 15m paid users and Pandora's 82m+ active users. TIDAL does pay more than it's competitors average of 55 percent for indie labels and 60 percent for major labels, paying out ~~62.5 percent~~ UPDATE: 75% to any label. TIDAL does offer 'more' to artists than competitors because it doesn't have a free listening tier, but with a lower amount of subscribers, that might mean less money overall. But looking at their equity values, TIDAL seems very very small Apple $760 billion. Spotify $8 billion. Tidal $60 million

The Apple still has to fall

It would be crazy to declare a streaming winner without discussing Apple's plans for music streaming, specifically with its $3bn purchase of Beats in 2014. Apple is not expected to have a free tier and due to pressure from major labels, it seems the entry price will be $9.99 (compared to the suspected $7.99) for individuals and $14.99 for families. Exclusive content is a huge driver for subscribers and rumor has it that Apple has been in a bidding war with TIDAL for artists and content. Apple/ Beats does have a few tricks up its sleeve, specifically the 800m credit cards on file and the ability to install Beats on every single iPhone. This could quickly shift the game into Apple's court. TIDAL has quickly fallen out of the top 700 on the App Store, which has Jay-Z resorting to personal phone calls to members. Showing us that maybe Jay does care about the music and his fans after all.

After a recent Tweetstorm by Mr. Shawn Carter, it seems that TIDAL is about the music and not about the money. Like most things, time will tell.

Q&A with Jay-Z