Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Tidal’s 99 Problems

The new celebrity-soaked streaming service doesn’t ring true.

Tue, Mar 31, 2015, 11:40


Maybe Tidal will be massively successful. But here are 99 problems I’ve identified.

1. Streaming is part of the new music industry paradigm, the musicians on the stage are part of the old music industry paradigm.

2. Jay Z wants musicians to get their labels to give Tidal exclusivity to new releases for a week. But Jay Z doesn’t employ these musicians. Why should they listen to him?

3. What’s in it for the kid in her bedroom starting out making tunes who is going to be putting everything on Soundcloud anyway?

4. Beats is already on the hunt. Apple already has a successful music distribution company in iTunes, which has inexplicably failed to keep up with the times. But with Beats Music, Apple has something Tidal doesn’t have to make it work when it launches this year: loads and loads and loads and loads of money.

5. Why are the oldies always repping new ventures? U2 and Apple, Jay Z and Tidal? Meanwhile, the kids are just getting on with it.

6. Youngsters won’t pay. Spotify and Netflix are the limit. But when you grow up with music and TV and movies on tap, why would you turn around and start paying?

7. Sound quality doesn’t matter. If it did, people wouldn’t watch most of their music on YouTube.

8. When people say sound quality does matter, they’re fronting, because they’re just buying into a new sound quality gimmick. I threw my Beats out a few months after buying them. They actually made me so frustrated because the fake bass was so irritating and false in its fidelity.

9. People say Spotify is successful at making people pay, so Tidal could be too. Really? Because 45 million of Spotify’s 60 million use it for free.

10. Celebrity endorsements don’t mean jack when it comes to tech. How’s Justin Timberlake getting on with MySpace?

11. Labels can be full of crap. Universal might get angry about free streaming, yet labels are the first to push the PR narrative of YouTube stars.

12. Many of the artists who lined up for Tidal feel like label execs. Hell, some of them are.

13. Everyone is talking about streaming services as if they’re the only place you can get music. A lot of people still just download stuff without paying a cent.

14. It sounds like a washing detergent

15. You can’t make people pay straight away.

16. Free tiers are gateways. If you don’t have one, you’re missing out on a large chunk of a customer base you can subsequently convert. I used Spotify for free with the ads initially. Now I pay.

17. Artists aren’t tech gurus.

18. Success is a catalyst for failure. People mess up when they seek to expand beyond what they’re good at. You see it all the time; a chain goes for one cafe too many, a media company buys something outside its area of expertise. Sure, 50 has the Vitamin Water, Diddy has the vodka, and will.i.am keeps talking BS about 3D printing, but how many ventures last beyond gimmick stage?

19. There’s the millionaire problem. Is this a streaming service for artists or for business people? The people on the stage are essentially the suits of the industry.

20. The days of bombastic launches are over. Stuff grows organically.

21. Fans want to discover new ways to access things. They don’t want stuff shoved down their throat.

22. RE: Jay Z. Would you really take tech advice from someone who did that deal with Samsung?

23. The big guns do and don’t really matter. If you’re already a fan of Taylor Swift or Daft Punk or Arcade Fire, you’re going to have their records.

24. The old music industry still serves some of these people. It’s funny to see Beyonce front and centre, when her last record sold (SOLD) nearly 830,000 copies in the first three days of its availability.

25. What’s in it for the newbies?

26. Unfortunately consumers don’t care about where profits go, or where the goods originate from. People want things fast, easily and cheap/free. If consumers wanted quality and ethical origins and profit shares, then pretty much every industry from food to fashion would be completely upturned.

27. Alicia Keys quoted Nietzsche. I don’t think he was a great businessman.

28. It’s vague. Artists speak in PR language now. They don’t need their labels to do that for them. “Preserve music’s importance in our lives”, “exclusive experiences”. What does that mean? Cut through the crap, please.

29. People are more interested in musicians making music rather than making money.

30. This is a top down approach, whereas the new industry is bottom up approach. Labels dictated things for years, which is why you’ve got all those overpriced CDs in a box somewhere. Alicia Keys sounded like a label exec. Stop boardroom dictating, start creating.

31. I want artists to make more money and to make a decent living doing what they do. But shouldn’t labels and artists be looking at how current services could be fairer?

32. People don’t want barriers to listening to music. I didn’t bother checking out Magna Carta Holy Grail immediately. There was a barrier. And I’m a Jay Z fan.

33. Music journalism and tech journalism combined follow the flashing lights, not the real crowd. So Tidal will get loads of vaguely positive and interested press in legacy media. That doesn’t really mean anything.

34. The launch was super awkward, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

35. Jay Z said he hopes Tidal will inspire artists to take creative risks, as if this is the first platform that doesn’t have the constraints of time that other formats do. How? Why? That’s a load of rubbish.

36. Hype doesn’t always convert. Hype is the enemy of sustainability. Played Draw Something lately?

37. Would people be talking about Tidal if Jay Z and co hadn’t invested? No. It only has half a million users. Let’s see how that grows.

38. There’s a distinct aura of self-serving about this rather than all-serving.

39. Spotify has a problem with paying artists so little. Funnily enough, the fans don’t seem to care about that.

40. The musicians who really hurt are those in debt from borrowing to make their debut record, who struggle to eat on tour, who spend most of their time working other jobs when they should be rehearsal room or studio. The Tidal line-up feels like the antithesis to the blue-collar artist. Y’all made it already.

41. The distribution methods in the industry have changed forever. The big labels couldn’t claw it back, and neither will the big artists.

42. $19.99 a month for better sound? That’s pretty much Netflix and Spotify subscriptions combined.

43. Fans want the biggest catalogue. They don’t want to search a streaming service to find the song they want to listen to right now isn’t there. Exclusivity hurts everyone.

44. I don’t want hyperbole. I want tunes.

45. If these artists wanted to own everything, why did they sign to majors in the first place? They’re not stupid. They knew what that meant.

46. What are the details? Does every artist who signs up to Tidal own a stake in it?

47. Does this mean Tidal artists would take their music off other streaming services?

48. I’m sure plenty of artists are happy with the millions of plays they’re getting on Spotify, the sales they’re getting on iTunes, and the views they’re getting on YouTube.

49. Musicians should know business, but business shouldn’t be their primary focus. Art needs to be the priority.

50. The Future Of Music. We’ve heard that one before.

51. At the launch, guests could listen to tunes on Sennheiser headphones and Samsung tablets. Meanwhile, in the real world, the kids listen to music using Beats headphones off their iPhones.

52. You can’t ignore the technology or the hardware that already exists.

53. If people cared about sound quality, then you wouldn’t see so many people still using the Apple headphones they get free with their iPad or iPhone.

54. On “lossless” audio – the wind has already gone out of Pono’s sails, if you ask me. Can Tidal change that? High definition sound has always been a niche product. The suits in their bachelor pads had Bose speakers, but the real fans were still rocking a Discman on the bus on the way to school.

55. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. Everyone can’t be an entrepreneur.

56. In the realm of streaming, there are sharks and minnows, there is no in between.

57. I still can’t believe there’s no free option.

58. 80% of Spotify’s 15 million users who pay, used the free version first.

59. With no free option, Tidal can’t convert potential paying customers.

60. Established artists just want to get paid. But that’s a blunt outlook, how are you going to do that in a sophisticated way?

61. Artists starting out just want people to hear their music, and then get paid. That means throwing their music into the biggest pool, where the ripples will be furthest reaching.

62. Artists starting out can’t afford hyperbole and reflective quotes.

63. Major labels want to do away with free services. Considering the state the majors got the industry into, do artists think they should be following what the majors want right now when it comes to distribution?

64. “The Internet is all about accessing entertainment. Realistically, 50 to 80 percent of all traffic is people downloading stuff for free. If you can turn that huge market share into something that you can monetize, even if it is just with ads, you will end up making more money than with all other revenue streams combined.” – Kim Dotcom

65. There’s a problem with “Streaming Wars” in general. No one benefits from war. Either people come up with a diplomatic solution together as a whole, or people die.

66. Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, Tidal, they’re all looking at the same thing. Slicing and dicing pieces of the same pie isn’t innovation.

67. Tidal is not a new idea.

68. Tidal is announcing itself as big before it is big. It all feels very Jobriath.

69. Spotify didn’t need celebrity endorsement.

70. I want to know what Amanda Palmer thinks. What Richard Russell thinks.

71. Artists make a mistake about exclusive content. Ultimately, it ends up not being about making fans special for accessing it, but making fans annoyed for not being able to access it. And when it fails, it hurts that they didn’t love you enough.

72. I don’t care about high definition music videos on Tidal. Vimeo is fine.

73. Spotify needs to do something about its royalty rates now. If that’s the only complaint the company has aimed at it, then if they fix it even a little, the criticism will disappear.

74. I read an article that referred to Tidal’s “CD-quality streaming”. If people who grew up with mp3s want nice fidelity, they turn to vinyl, not CDs. You might as well be talking about LaserDiscs.

75. I can listen to Taylor Swift on YouTube.

76. Universal. Most of the people on the stage? Universal artists.

77. $56 million is cheap in the tech world. Not in the music world.

78. I wonder what Music Key has up its sleeve?

79. The music industry is a class system. It’s Downton Abbey. Up in the drawing room, the Lords and Ladies are talking about their new toy. Down in the scullery, the masses are scrubbing the floors. And to the viewers – the fans – it’s all just entertainment.

80. I want to know what the people in steerage think. The jobbing musicians. The acts who are as far away from Bey and Jay as you and I.

81. Stop talking about “movements”. This is not a movement. It’s just another streaming service.

82. ‘Ad-free’ isn’t a big plus when you have to pay for something. Ad-free is a plus when something is free and you still don’t have to listen or watch ads. People don’t care about ads. If they did, the Spotify free tier wouldn’t be successful.

83. Tidal has 25 million tracks. But once you get into those kind of numbers, do they even matter? Four million tracks on Spotify have never even been played. There’s not enough time in a lifetime to listen to dozens of millions of songs.

84. Streaming is not show business.

85. If they wanted to make a big splash, they should have pushed people towards the service straight away. The actual streaming service – and not the weird press conference – would have been the thing getting traction if there had been a new Kanye / Rihanna / WTT2 record up on there.

86. This doesn’t feel collective, it feels exclusive.

87. At least there wasn’t an attempt to build a platform from scratch, but by latching on to something that already exists, it does lessen the wow-factor.

88. I’d be interested in a PR launch that saw Spotify announcing that they were going to work more closely with artists to create a better royalty system that rewarded their musical output in a more fair way.

89. Making more money for artists only really sounds good when there aren’t really rich people talking about it. It’s like a bunch of property developers standing on a stage bitching about a mansion tax.

90. #TIDALforALL is a terrible hashtag.

91. I want to see things broken down in simple terms that we can understand. I want to see the breakdown of the royalties. Gimme a neat infographic that explains how Tidal is going to be better for the artist.

92. The images of musicians signing what they were signing. So overly serious. So old school. You’re not outside Buckingham Palace with A&M, lads.

93. Pretentiousness is off-putting.

94. I think artists collaborating and banding together is great. But there’s a vibe of “when Jay Z says jump, you jump” about Tidal.

95. “Water is free,” said Jay Z. No it isn’t. Get a better analogy.

96. “I just want to be an alternative,” Jay Z said. “They don’t have to lose for me to win.” That doesn’t sound like Jay-speak. You don’t set out to be an alternative at his level, you set out to be the boss. Is he playing the underdog card, or already aware of the limitations of what Tidal is setting out to do?

97. I think people who are really rich are still entitled to complain about losing out, no matter how much that might grate. But if you want to change the music industry (and all the hyperbole at the launch indicated that they do), then you have to change it from the bottom up, not for those who have already got there.

98. Artists can try and take and get as much control as they want, but the label system still exists because within the labels there is still the expertise around how to break an act – no matter how much the majors have failed to adapt to the contemporary industry. An act aiming to be mainstream starting out simply can’t become a hydra that employs and manages marketing, distribution, artwork, release schedules, licensing, publishing, songwriting, production, PR, tour management, live production, etc. etc. Labels still break big acts. They still fail a lot. They still take a chance on an interesting new artist. And that’s why labels still exist, because who else is going to do that?

99. The streaming paradigm has already been created. What’s next?

Here’s the press conference.
YouTube Preview Image