First Taylor Swift stirred up controversy by pulling all her music from streaming services, notably Spotify, because she allegedly feels streaming services don’t pay artists enough money for their work. Not long after, Jay-Z’s company Project Panther acquired the parent company of Tidal and relaunched the service as the first of its kind owned by artists.
Fast forward a bit and high-profile artists like Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj are releasing exclusive music videos only available to Tidal subscribers. To see these and additional content, you have to sign up for a Tidal membership, which starts at $9.99 per month.
So what exactly is Tidal and what makes it different from other streaming services? What content is available, how can you sign up, where does your money go and why are artists eager to promote it?
Tidal’s High Fidelity Music and Exclusive Videos
Tidal’s big promise is high fidelity music streaming, or HiFi for short. It’s the first service to offer this quality of music streaming. What this breaks down to is that unlike standard MP3 audio, HiFi music is not compressed in any way, so it essentially delivers the best sound quality.
Typical normal quality audio streaming has a bit rate of 96 kbps and high quality is 320 kbps. Tidal’s lossless playback has a much higher bit rate of 1411 kbps, which Tidal says puts its music quality more on par with that of CDs.
Additionally, Tidal has a generous collection of music videos and more available for streaming, which is atypical of current streaming services. Spotify and Rdio don’t currently offer music videos, though Spotify announced videos would be coming soon.
Tidal took the internet by storm particularly when R&B and hip hop artists Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj announced a music video for their song “Feeling Myself,” but that it was exclusively available on Tidal. In other words, fans who weren’t already subscribed to Tidal had to sign up for at least $9.99 per month to watch the music video.
The service also features some other exclusive content like B-sides from Jay-Z and behind the scenes with Madonna.
What Tidal Means to You and What it Means to Artists
For $10 per month, you get over 25 million songs to stream via Tidal, plus a solid amount of on-demand music videos and other exclusive video content. This media is available either through the web player at tidal.com or by downloading the iOS or Android apps. You can also save music for offline listening on up to three separate devices, or, as most do, save them in a personal collection or playlist online.
Important: All the bragging about high fidelity streaming music actually isn’t even available in the base plan, but rather in Tidal HiFi for $19.99 per month. Anyone could spring for the more expensive tier if it means getting music that sounds better, but it’s a bit more complicated than that since solid equipment is necessary too.
If you have $20 earbuds, you probably won’t hear a difference in sound quality because the earbuds themselves weren’t made for high quality listening. In order to listen to and appreciate high quality sound, you need devices that are capable of producing that high quality sound – meaning expensive headphones or speakers.
Tidal is such a breakthrough because it’s a direct connection between artists and fans without record labels and other companies getting in the way. A number of A-list artists have claimed ownership in Tidal including but not limited to Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Rihanna, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk, and Calvin Harris.
Of course, one could argue given the overwhelming high-profile support and exclusive content, these artists are making more money from Tidal than through other streaming services. How much exactly is still unknown, but it’s generally agreed upon that the artists are receiving more. Typically, streaming service money goes directly to record labels since they sign deals to license the music, then profits slowly trickle down to the artists.
There are two sides to this. One is that the artists deserve more money than their record labels and representatives allow, so this is a good thing. The other is that many of the artists who take ownership in Tidal are already multi-millionaires and don’t need any extra money. You, the customer, can pick a side with your wallet.
Choosing a Tidal Plan or Choosing the Competition
Tidal has two pricing plans available: $9.99 per month or $19.99 per month. The $9.99 per month regular plan is just like any other premium streaming service with standard quality audio, though it does include access to music videos and exclusive content as well.
To get the high fidelity music, you’ll have to opt for the Tidal HiFi plan by paying double each month. It’s a hard sell, so you really have to be dedicated to getting the absolute best sound quality possible if you’re willing to pay 20 bucks every month.
While the $9.99 per month plan puts Tidal on the same playing field as Spotify Premium and others, there are more affordable options from competitors still with more features. Spotify and Rdio have completely free, ad-supported streaming plans that limit access to just Mac or PC, but include features like radio and lyrics as well. They both also offer discounted $4.99 premium plans for students, which is half the cost of Tidal’s starting price.
Additionally, if you’re in a family, these competing services discount streaming on multiple devices for multiple users, which Tidal does not currently do. Family plans start at $14.99 per month for two users.
Tidal is a good option for anyone who is extremely passionate about directly supporting artists regardless of their current income. It’s also essential if you’re interested in high fidelity streaming or the exclusive videos that occasionally drop within the service. Otherwise, competitors still hold the reins on features and pricing.