30 Minutes With Tidal. What Jay-Z Gets Wrong About Music Streaming And How He Can Fix It


So first off, let me say that I want Jay-Z to win. I want him to shake up the music streaming marketplace in a way that no other company has done before. I want the bonafide hustler to hustle the industry, and I want musicians to be seated at the table with Silicon Valley in the streaming landscape.

I wanted Tidal to shake up the world. Unfortunately, the first iteration of the product falls far beyond that lofty promise.

The User Experience Issue

As someone who has developed and deployed software before, I won’t focus on the bugs. This happens for every launch day, for every product. I would rather focus on the user experience, the pièce de résistance that grabs enables the user to shout “take my money.”

The current Tidal app experience falls sorely behind Rdio (the best streaming app hands down), Spotify, and Soundcloud. When logged on, the user is presented with a dizzying array of tiny text and album covers, with no real organization or sense about them. In addition, music discovery (which could be a killer app) is non-existent, forcing users to search for artists or scroll through the haphazard list of albums and tracks. To me, it’s a complete mess and lacks engagement.

It would be interesting to see their user engagement numbers after 30 days. I gave up after 30 minutes.

The Artist/Consumer Disconnect

Valuing music is a tricky business. We all know that streaming services have reduced the cost of music to near zero. Tidal has a great mission to create partnerships with musicians and possibly break the fuzzy barriers of streaming rights and royalties. This is to be applauded, and something that only an artist-based service could achieve. However, one must ask…..does the end user care? In addition, this is a selling point for other artists, not the end users themselves.

The Loss on Lossless

I’m a vinyl fanatic. I’m that guy who hears the warmness in a dusty 45 being played over a vacuum-tubed receiver. But most consumers listen to music on inferior headphones, or (gasp!) a smartphone speaker. A product like lossless audio will only appeal to a very small market. And that market is most likely already buying vinyl, or exists outside of the target demographic of Tidal (think classical music or jazz fans).

The Premium Pricing Pitfall

Currently, that experience is not there. The site, with it’s minimalist illuminati overtones, does nothing to convey to me why I want to spend $13 a month to use this product. Am I getting more content such as album covers or lyrics? Social integration? Personal messages from Kanye? There is no “sell” here other than the fact that your favorite millionaire artists feel that they need to be paid more money.

Add to this fact that the $25 a month premium plan is roughly the same cost as three of my current audio subscriptions (Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify) and the value proposition looks even murkier. Price is everything in this market.

So What Now?

Does Tidal get a second chance to make a first impression? Of course. The streaming music wars have only just begun, and no one product has captured the majority of the greater music market. But what can the founders do to add value to the product?

Put Some Skin In The Game — These are the most powerful artists in the world. Pull A Tayor Swift….pull all your music from rival streaming services. Pull your albums from stores, and your videos from YouTube and VEVO. Make Tidal the only destination to stream music and video, to buy concert tickets, and to interact on social media.

Create A True Benefit for Artists — Be transparent. Give artists a cut of the revenue and make it clear from day one. Put it on the first page of the website. Get non-superstar artists to buy in. Create a better Bandcamp, or Soundcloud. Create a label and sign, promote, and discover raw talent.

Give Us Something We Don’t Have — Crack the music discovery code. No one else has. Create a live-streamed chat room — give us a personalized way for us to interact with you. Do a concert tour for app subscribers only. People would pay for that access. Give me interactive album covers, or behind the scenes commentary and exclusive content. The sky’s the limit.

Let’s not count Tidal out here. The company has a long way to go. I wish Jay-Z and company all the best. And if the team needs someone for a product sprint, you can always reach out to me.

Winston Ford is a multidisciplinary entrepreneur, culturalist, marketer, writer, and digital guru who creates digital platforms for startups and brands. For more information, check out his website at thisisstone.me.

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