Streaming the tides of music
I wrote my last article about saying farewell to an old friend called Rdio. Of the good times we shared, its features I appreciated, and some kinks along the way I felt they faltered from my perspective.
Since Rdio announced its bankruptcy and selling of self to Pandora, I started trialling TIDAL’s music streaming in the hopes that it’d be sufficient to migrate to after Rdio’s closure. TIDAL (yes, all caps) offer a 30-day free* trial with which I’m currently using to check it out.
*You have to sign up with payment information, which is always annoying.
TIDAL is seen as the more expensive product out there, and they certainly get a lot of FLAC for that (I’m sorry, I just had to say it)…
What’s the yams?
There are a trillion other music streaming services, so why’d I choose TIDAL? I wanted one that I hope will prioritise the music listening and knowledge experience.
I have been burned before by Spotify in the past. Their shonky iTunes rip off design layout, general frustrating interface design decisions, and dubious backend logic would show me 5 copies of the same album, with greyed out tracks dotted through that would impede my album listening experience, and finding any related info or releases by artists felt extraordinarily unintuitive. After using Rdio mostly perfectly for 3 years, I didn’t want to go back to a sub-par experience.
TIDAL’s main marketing push is that it is high quality service, and it is for the basic “Premium” account — but funnily enough most other streaming services offer the same quality for a standard account. You can choose to stream at 96 or 320 kbits, or opt for the “HiFi” account and stream FLAC CD-quality audio.
It’s fair to say that the Premium streaming subscription is equal with industry offerings and should satisfy plenty…
TIDAL is seen as the more expensive product out there, and they certainly get a lot of FLAC for that (I’m sorry, I just had to say it). The Premium subscription is about US$10 per month, and the HiFi subscription is US$20 per month. They actually have “value” plans too, whereby you pay for 6-month blocks for either tier, which results in a lower monthly rate, plus they have different rates for family (+n people to listen on the same account), students and military. Pretty cool, actually!
It’s fair to say that the Premium streaming subscription is equal with industry offerings and should satisfy plenty, so if anything the negative perception TIDAL may have is probably more to do with their big marketing relaunch, whereby they announced artists would receive more royalties with TIDAL plays, and then proceeded to give multi-million dollar artists shares in a multi-million dollar company. Well played! But in all seriousness, TIDAL is currently the only streaming music frontrunner that is prioritising artist relations, remuneration and promotion, which should be commended at least for trying where other companies aren’t going whole hog.
TIDAL actually do a few things I haven’t seen any other streaming service do, which is actually quite commendable.
I can feel it calling in the air tonight…
TIDAL’s artist relations may be better than most, but how good is their product? Aside from being a solid music player, with some minor user experience issues (I don’t like a lot of the playlist UX decisions they’ve made), TIDAL actually do a few things I haven’t seen any other streaming service do, which is actually quite commendable.
As part of their regular audio offering, TIDAL also have music and concert videos to stream, and host exclusive content too, like album releases before official release dates, rare tracks and they have a pretty solid team curating playlists that encompass many different genres and knowledge.
Even Prince himself—internet pioneer, recluse and copyright troll depending on the day of the week—is part of the service and regularly curates “Prince’s Purple Pick of the Week” in which he selects an old, new or completely rare song from his extensive catalogue to share with the world on TIDAL. TIDAL regularly posts editorial content that pushes them into an actual media & entertainment company, and not just a service provider.
TIDAL have three main editorial sections within the app:
- What’s new
Selection of newest content added to TIDAL, with also TIDAL picks and exclusives
- TIDAL Rising
In their words: “A program dedicated to artists from around the globe who have passionate fan bases and are ready to broaden that base to a wider audience. TIDAL Rising was designed to help accelerate the exposure and give voice to tomorrow’s biggest names.”
- TIDAL Discovery
In their words: “Some of the best music in the world is the music we never hear, because sometimes the most talented unsigned artists don’t get the break they deserve. TIDAL Discovery was designed to give them that break. This is an area within TIDAL that is exactly what the name suggests — a place for TIDAL subscribers to exclusively discover the music of tomorrow so that it becomes their music today.”
Other commendable things TIDAL does is ticket sales, digital music sales and showcase music experiences like streaming live shows and hosting interactive experiences (check out this one for Usher’s latest track Chains). In this sense, they’re not just a music streaming provider, but a full music experience provider. I assume the music purchased is downloadable (they offer MP3 and FLAC versions for sale) so even if you don’t want to invest in the streaming component, there are plenty of other free and paid touch points that consumers can interact with TIDAL. Makes perfect business sense.
They claim they have over 30 million songs, which is comparable to all the other streaming services too.
I want you to abuse me, use me, shut up and do me
So far through my usage I’ve found that some of the music I enjoyed on Rdio isn’t available through TIDAL, but there is a lot of music still available. Bit weird that they don’t have releases like Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest but they have Shields. They do have Magma’s full catalogue though! Missing a few albums here and there isn’t too much of a worry and it can only improve with time. They claim they have over 30 million songs, which is comparable to all the other streaming services too.
They have some cool artist features like the Social and Influences tabs. Social collates the artist’s social accounts into a single spot to see their activities and going’s on. The Influences tabs allows artists to cite other artists that they are inspired by. It’s a great feature to allow an insight into an artist’s significant likes and also discover more music.
Things like artist bios and album reviews I liked being at the forefront in Rdio’s interface are hidden behind context menu options in TIDAL. In fact, I find there are a bunch of options hidden behind those elusive ellipses menus that it feels like a hassle to open up and find the feature I want. I think for further operations other than general play, pause, and favourite, TIDAL is a bit clunky. Album Info (when present for an album) is a great resource that displays credits (hyperlinked, too) and can also have an album review.
Searching is a little strange sometimes in the desktop app: I’ve found a few times when I type an artist’s name partially I’ll get good search results, but when completing the artist’s name I’ll get some random results that have no relation to who I typed. Also the search result pop-up window is a bit distracting when I submit my search, see the results in the main window, except this annoying fly-over is still open. There are some UX issues, but hopefully they too will go with time.
Another great feature that Rdio had that I wish TIDAL had is to list a music label’s artists and releases. While TIDAL states what record label the release was made under, there’s no hyperlink to view any information about that record label.
There’s still no serious contender to take the social music streaming experience crown from Rdio
In the end, it doesn’t even matterrrrrrr
I find for my purposes TIDAL actually performs well. Aside from the few UX issues and lack of some albums, TIDAL’s product allows me to do 99% of my listening on desktop, web and phone from the single price point. Unsuspectingly too, with the addition of the video feature I have no need to visit YouTube to watch music videos and be subjected to the terrible advertising there.
TIDAL’s added features of the digital shop and ticket sales are nice and show something creatively savvy for the traditionally stagnant music industry, although they aren’t exactly features I’d buy into now (if they had vinyl sales I would!) but I appreciate that they are there and can imagine there is space to grow.
Probably the saddest thing though I find with TIDAL is that it really lacks any social features, aside from sharing to social networks. Rdio for me was about community: following and experiencing friends’ and strangers’ music tastes, writing comments and reviews on albums and tracks… TIDAL is more for the single music listener who appreciates the exclusives and range of types of content, who may prefer to commune with their fellow peers at a concert, than over an internet comment.
Unless Pandora decide to merge Rdio’s strong user-directed music experience with social bells and whistles, there’s still no serious contender to take the social music streaming experience crown from Rdio. I’m still enjoying TIDAL’s experience and will continue as a paid user.