What is Tidal?

TIDAL header

What is Tidal and why should you care?

Tidal is a “new” streaming music service that offers high definition audio and exclusive content to its subscribers. The service has been around since 2009 but under the name WiMP. In 2014, the company rebranded WiMP as Tidal and it was bought by rapper Jay Z for $56 million in March 2015.

While some services like Spotify and Pandora offer free music streaming, Tidal is premium-only. You can get access to its catalog in standard definition audio for $9.99 per month, the same as Spotify. Those with more discerning ears and opt for the high definition subscription for $19.99 per month.

What type of exclusive content does Tidal have?

Tidal will feature exclusive content that is locked to the service before being released on other channels. It’ll be difficult for artists to keep their content exclusive since it’s very easy to capture and repost songs and videos to sites like YouTube or SoundCloud.

White Stripes exclusive video

In the few weeks since Tidal’s marketing push, I’ve seen exclusive content get posted and then pulled, forcing intrigued fans to sign up for Tidal since it’s the only place to get that content at the time. This will undoubtedly upset some fans who don’t want to pay for a Tidal subscription.

Tidal also features exclusive video. It’s not just new music video releases either. I found a video of the White Stripe’s first television performance from 2000. It’s neat but there’s not enough exclusive content at this time to make the service compelling. That could change in the future.

What is high definition audio?

High definition audio is uncompressed, CD-quality music. Most other competing music streaming services only offer lossy, compressed music in MP3 or AAC formats. These formats basically squash the highest treble and lowest bass notes to keep files sizes small.

TIDAL’s high def streaming tier offers uncompressed FLAC streaming. FLAC is an open-sourced audio codec that doesn’t compress audio so its files are  many times larger than MP3s. For comparison, Tidal’s FLAC files stream at 1411kbps while it’s standard definition AAC tracks stream at 320kbps.

Will I notice a difference?

It depends. If you have expensive audio gear and know what you’re looking for in terms of audio quality, you’ll likely notice Tidal’s high def streaming sounding fuller and more engaging. If you’re listening to music with the earbuds that came with your iPhone, you’re not going to notice.

Tidal offers a free (but flawed) test for interested subscribers to see if they can tell a difference. I’ll cover if you can tell a difference in audio quality in a future post.

Tidal test failure

Why are there so many famous pop stars backing Tidal?

You’ve probably heard the name Tidal as there are a ton of famous musicians backing the service. Daft Punk, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher are just a few of the big names tied to Tidal. Tidal has been pushing its marketing hard with the #TIDALforAll Twitter hashtag to raise awareness.

What are they raising awareness for? Well, musicians have been getting the short end of the stick, according to Jay Z. The rapper wants musicians to be appreciated for their art and to be paid for it. “If Aloe Blacc and his writers, the guys he wrote with, are not seeing a $4,000 check from 168 million streams. They did their job, they worked, they done it. The people loved it, the people consumed it. Where’d it go? People didn’t pay or stream Aloe Blacc’s music for it to turn into vapor and go into the air. Where is it?,” asks Jay.

This argument has been stewing for years as artists report measly earnings from streaming services. Damon Krukowsky of Galaxie 500, an indie band, reportedly made $9.18 from 6,000 plays of his song. When artists are being paid fractions of a cent for each play, it’s easy to see why musicians are mad.

Tidal we kill the batman

Pop musician Taylor Swift made waves late last year when she removed her entire discography from Spotify. “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art. I didn’t see that happening, perception-wise, when I put my music on Spotify. Everybody’s complaining about how music sales are shrinking, but nobody’s changing the way they’re doing things. They keep running towards streaming, which is, for the most part, what has been shrinking the numbers of paid album sales,” said Swift. And yes, you can find Swift’s entire discography on Tidal, with the exception of her latest album 1989. You’ll have to buy the CD or download it from iTunes for that album.

With Tidal, Jay Z hopes to put artists back in control over their content.

Curious about Tidal? You can try the service free for 30 days by signing up here.

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Follow me on Twitter: @lewisleong

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