TIDAL’s Broken Promises

After Tidal jumped out the gate with a press conference debacle that just seemed like a bunch of celebrities jacking eachother off, the backlash was swift.

How Jay Z’s Tidal Press Conference Showed He’s Out of Touch” — Time.com

“…the entire music industry stood on a stage in a collective display of how rich and out of touch they are.” — Gawker.com

The point Jay Z and his fellow mega artists were making was that, as mega stars they have high value and should be paid an amount that reflects their value. It made perfect sense. What rubbed people the wrong way, I think, was it being promoted as some type of protest and artist revolution, when it pretty much was just millionair artists demanding people give them more money. Especially at a time when people across the country were, and still are, financially struggling. They brought out the expensive champagne, poured themselves glasses, and toasted to the future of raking in even more millions. Though that might not have been their intention, this is how it was interpreted by many fans and media outlets.

In an attempt to get some good press, Tidal Discovery was launched. It’s purpose was to have Tidal be viewed as more of a platform serving the purpose of creating equal and fair treatment for all artists, big and small. Theverge.com wrote about it in an article with this headline “Tidal Discovery Will Give Independent Artists More Control Over Their Music

Here’s a little of what was said by Tidal’s then CIO, Vania Schlogel

Promise #1

“Discovery will allow independent artists to upload their music directly instead of the current model which requires them to go through a third-party service.”

Promise #2

“Artists using Tidal Discovery will also get access to an artist dashboard, which will display data generated from users like listening habits, location, and email addresses.”

With it being 3 years since that article was written, has Tidal delivered on any of those promises?

Promise #1

Can artists upload their music directly to Tidal instead of going through a third party service? No, they cannot. Artists must still go through a third party service/digital distributor to get their music on Tidal and to participate in the Tidal Discovery program. Even worse, artists cannot choose the third party service of their choice. Tidal Discovery is exclusively partnered with 4 distributors, all of which, lock artists into paying annual fees.

Record Union — Charges artists $15 a year per single, $20 a year per EP, and $25 a year per album plus 15% of their royalties. Every new Single, EP, or album comes with a shiny new annual fee, 2 albums would cost you $50 a year plus 15% of your royalties. The annual fee only covers the stores Record Union currently distributes to so you’d have to pay an additional $2 to get your music in a new store like Pandora Premium.

Indigoboom — Charges $59 a year plus 30% of your royalties for unlimited releases, $69 a year plus 20% of your royalties for unlimited releases, and $79 a year plus 15% of your royalties for unlimited releases.

Tunecore — Charges artists $10 per year per single and $50 per year per album, but atleast they don’t take a percentage of sales.

Distrokid — The most reasonable of the bunch — charges $20 per year for unlimited distribution.

If artists fail to pay up every year their music will be removed from every store they used these digital distributors to get their music into. Art and financial stability don’t exactly work in harmony so I don’t think it’s the smartest option for most artists. At the end of the day, if artists want to take part in Tidal Discovery, it’s the only option.

Promise #2

Do artists have access to an artist dashboard displaying data generated from users like listening habits, location, and email addresses? No, they do not.

I joined Tidal Discovery through Record Union as a test just to see if it’s something you have to sign up to gain access to and nope, it’s not. There is no artist dashboard like artists.spotify.com or anything like that. In the case of Record Union, Tunecore, and Distrokid you’re not even shown daily streams from Tidal. If your music is streamed on Tidal you won’t know until you get a royalty report 3 months after the date of the stream. Alternatively, all these distributors provide daily streaming data from Spotify.

So, it looks like Tidal has pretty much broken all of their promises to independent artists. Are there any benefits to the Tidal Discovery program? Let’s take a look:

What you give Tidal:

You are required to give Tidal your song, EP, or Album exclusively for 15 days. So nobody without a Tidal subscription will be able to stream your album for the first 15 days of your release. This effectively turns you into a brand ambassador for Tidal, using your music as incentive to drive subscriptions to their platform.

What Tidal gives you:

Being that Tidal severely handicaps your ability to externally drive streams with it’s requirement that users pay to gain access, free internal promotion would make sense. Yes, it makes total sense, but they don’t do it. It is exclusively your responsibility to promote your music and Tidal. They don’t do anything to promote you or your music. Once upon a time they had a tab on their dashboard “TIDAL Discovery” linked to a page featuring music from Discovery artists. That page has been removed.

Here’s their value proposition:

“The highest quality releases will be featured in monthly TIDAL playlists, be promoted along with TIDAL exclusives and be heard. Loudly…”

What classifies a release as “high quality”? They don’t say. High quality could mean great music or be code for managed by Rock Nation or managed or signed to one of the other artists/co-owners of the platform, who knows.

It’s interesting how the streaming platforms saying the most about the mistreatment of artists are doing the least. With Youtube, artists get the ability to promote their music for free and freely with no restrictions. We get detailed analytics to better target and find fans. We get affordable advertising. We get a method of communicating with the fans consuming our content. Even Spotify has stepped up with Adstudio.spotify.com and artist.spotify.com. Pandora is just blowing everyone away with their AMP program. They’re not only providing artists with data, but also access to the actual fans that are listening to their music day to day which no other streaming platform does. Where’s Tidal?