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Can Tidal win back the haters or has Jay Z's streaming ship already sailed?


It was (re)launched in a blaze of publicity, as a group of struggling, sorry, extremely rich artists got together in a room vowing to change the course of music history, and pledging to 'bring humanity back to being an artist'.

But, one month after its glittering launch, Jay Z's 'game-changing' music streaming service Tidal has dropped out of the top 700 in the US iPhone app charts.

Meanwhile, two of the rival services that it had targeted - Pandora and Spotify - have moved up to positions 3 and 4, respectively, in the same chart, dethroning Candy Crush Saga in the process. If this wasn't traumatic enough, Andy Chen, the CEO of Tidal's parent company Aspiro, got the boot last week, along with 24 other employees, four months after Jay Z paid $56m to enter the streaming market.

So, is it all over for the company already? After all, things move fast in the digital world, and the public seem to have spoken. But the picture is not entirely clear - yet.

What Tidal has got wrong:

There was a huge amount wrong with Tidal's relaunch. Scratch that - an enormous amount wrong. The blaze of glory press conference, where a range of multimillionaires were collected together in one room to declare that they had been treated unfairly and were striking a blow for musicians worldwide was instantly offputting. No one likes rich people complaining that they don't have enough money; particularly when the actual details were dug into a little deeper.

Despite Jay Z telling Billboard "Will artists make more money? Even if it means less profit for our bottom line, absolutely," it transpired that Tidal is currently still locked into deals with labels that pay only a marginally better rate (62.5% to all labels, rather than 60% to majors and 55% to indies)  than its competitors. And, with Spotify still not actually making a profit (in May 2014 it was $200m in the red), it's unclear how Tidal will be able to give any more to artists - it doesn't have any profit to dish out. In reality, the only artists that stood to make money were those big cheeses on the stage, who'd been given 3% equity in the company and a few million dollars as a sweetener to sign up and give their blessing.

The business model for Tidal seems to be built on a lot of assumptions. Its two selling points are high quality audio, and the likelihood that it will be able to offer exclusive content from the artists it has on board. There is no free service, only paid ($10 a month, or $20 a month for the premium quality) - and the reality seems to be that this is not enough to tempt people over from the services they already enjoy for free. Most people just don't care about audio quality and music fans seem to have managed to survive on Spotify without having Taylor Swift's 1989 immediately to hand (as great a record as that is).

What Tidal has got right:

However, despite Tidal setting itself up as a giant punchbag, there are a few developments that mean that, perhaps, we shouldn't write it off just yet.

Fundamentally, it is, at least already paying a better rate to labels and this could potentially be renegotiated up at a later stage (by paying more to labels but forcing them to pass that on to their artists). Also, it has recently announced a set of new initiatives, which hint at its future plans.

One of them is Tidal Rising, which promises to shine a light on unknown artists and give a platform to independents; if this isn't just a carbon copy of Vevo Uplift ("hey guys, there's this new singer called Sam Smith and we think he's going to be big") it could have potential as a real way of pushing deserving artists into the limelight.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is Tidal Discovery, which will enable artists themselves to upload music and gain access to data about who is buying their music and where they are. Currently, this sort of thing has to go through a third party, and this could be genuinely empowering for artists. The mere fact that this exists suggest that Tidal might be serious about helping the little guy. 

What now?

There is no doubt Tidal isn't in a great position. When even Mumford & Sons are dissing you, you know you're in trouble.

It also must be acknowledged that they were in a Catch-22 with their launch: they had to do something to grab attention against their powerful rivals, but in doing so, they made an extremely offputting statement, prejudicing people against it. This would have been a shock to Jay Z - normally his seal of approval is enough to bring people in to buy anything, and he would have assumed that more celebrities would simply have upped the clout. But the reverse happened.

Ultimately, if it's any good, you would like to think that it will survive and grow. Normally, you can't keep a good app down.

However, it would take a brave man to bet on it being successful. Even if Tidal Discovery suggests that its heart is in the right place, it has already lost a lot of goodwill from that launch. Its rivals also look incredibly strong: why would anyone move from Spotify and Pandora when they already offer such a good user experience? And with iBeats, or whatever the new Apple service is called, launching soon, it faces yet another competitor - and one with deep pockets and a lot of existing consumer love.

Just a month in, the tide may well have already irrevocably turned for Tidal.

Written by Dave Fawbert


(Image: Getty)



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