Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

What’s wrong with Tidal

27 April 2015 by Jim

Tidal is a new music service owned in part by musicians. It is a competitor to the 9.99 $/€/£ per month subscription service Spotify that has become hugely popular. Tidal wants 19.99 per month and says it’s worth it because it offers music in high resolution, i.e. 1400 kbps, instead of the 320 kbps of Spotify.

So what’s wrong with Tidal?

              • offering music streaming at 1400 kbps (about 50 MB per song or 1 GB per album) makes no sense for people who have to pay for their data usage on their phones
  • offering music at 1400 kbps makes no sense for people who do not have luxurious 3000 € speakers or headphones to listen to that high-quality music
  • even people with such high-quality and very expensive audio equipment seem to be unable to differentiate between 320 kbps and 1400 kbps so nobody can actually enjoy that surplus quality (due to the way MP3 compression works, some of the audio information is lost, but it is the bits that humans can’t hear at all or only very little that are cut out to save space)
  • Tidal has been promoted by millionaire and billionaire artists like Madonna, Daft Punk, Kanye West, Rihanna, etc. as a way to revolutionise the music industry and give artists what they deserve; in other words, they’re millionaires telling the general public that they would like to be even richer

So the basic issue with Tidal’s service is that it is a service offering advantages that no one cares about, at a price twice that of the most popular streaming music service, which shows that the main idea behind the service is to make people pay more for music.

And that’s not going to happen.

Due to the culture of piracy online, it is easy to download pretty much every popular piece of music for free. Services like Spotify have made it cheap and convenient enough to pay for music instead of downloading it, but this requires a low price, otherwise people would stick to piracy. It’s a sign that the music business has changed, and whether musicians like this or not, it’s the way it is. Industries change. And there’s no way around that.

The decrease in sales of physical copies of albums and singles has led to many musicians making most of their money via concerts. And concerts are a growing industry, grossing 6.2 billion in 2014 in the USA, an increase of about 100% since 2005.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 15.16.54

Find more statistics at Statista

So they can’t just get rich off of selling digital or physical copies of albums but actually have to perform to make money. Like most other workers, they need to sell their work, i.e. the live time they put into their work, because digital copies of their performances are difficult to sell, since they’re readily watchable for free online.

It’s the same thing for movies. You can’t eradicate piracy, but you can accept the fact that movies will be pirated and try to make them cheap enough to discourage piracy. That’s exactly what happened with Netflix, which is like Spotify for movies. And among the people I know who pirate music or movies the most, many are also those who go to the most concerts and who watch the most movies in cinemas, because the genuinely like this form of art and appreciate the better experience they get on an actual concert or in front of the huge screen in a cinema.

So the world is changing. Deal with it and adapt, accept the change. A 25 year old Chinese who is replaced by a robot in some factory in Shenzhen this month also has to deal with the fact that technology has changed his opportunities for finding work. But since nobody will interview him, he can’t complain on TV about it. Yet it happens, and it has to happen. Change is often painful, but it’s only painful if you make it so by not accepting it and clinging to a past that is already gone and will never return.

Claiming to be the next messiah with a revolutionary new app / service / website / gadget, as the owners of Tidal did in their announcement video below, is not a solution.

On a more general note:

With many new apps / services / websites / gadgets, the inventors or investors claim that it is the best thing ever that will change everything. Yet that cannot be true of every new invention. And if you think back about the fundamental way we live our lives, habits actually change only very slowly, and that’s a good thing. It prevents us from jumping on every new thing just because it’s new, and it makes us wait for some time to see if something really proves successful before engaging in it. It’s a kind of ‘bullsh*t-filter‘ that makes most of the new things disappear before we actually had to deal with them.

I know that bicycles will still be here in 20 years, and so will teacups, and afternoon naps, and walks, and running, and paper notebooks. But I wouldn’t be so sure about Google+, consumer 3D printers (at least in their current form), smartwatches… and Tidal. It’s not impossible, but time will do a good job of filtering out the junk by then. So take every new thing that you read or hear about with a grain of salt. Even philosophers and economists often come up with new ‘things’ that seem to fit the short-term well, but rarely remain over the decades and centuries. Fukuyama’s end of history? (full text here) Interesting concept, but I don’t think we’re there yet. China’s showing us a new, different way of building a state, unlike the Western liberal democracy. And it just might work.

And here’s a short video about ‘solutionism‘, the fallacy of thinking that technology can and will solve every problem:

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