Before Tidal comes crashing down
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but people are not flocking to Tidal like their new owners had hoped. Let’s be honest, we’re all aware of how poorly the service has been received, so I’ll try not to bore you with what they’re doing wrong but I will try to discuss what they can do better in an effort to improve it. The short solution is, Tidal needs to become a home for music lovers.
Right now the brand image of Tidal is a group of top paid, A-list musicians whining that they don’t get paid enough. Don’t get me wrong, I understand their angle. I know that all of them have had to fight with labels to get paid what they do and they have a chip on their shoulders with labels in general, but let’s focus on the little guys. Let’s show people that struggling artists can make a living because Tidal pays them more than other services. Let’s make a shift in the industry. Heck, let’s make direct to consumer a profitable model for musicians. Who needs labels any more anyways.
I’m a hip-hop head and music lover. I very much want to see Tidal succeed and more importantly succeed at its mission of “creating a better music industry for musicians, and a far better, higher-quality experience for fans.” That’s a very high standard to set, and not one they’re representing well thus far.
Keep in mind these are just ideas. To implement ideas takes time and money, and to execute them well takes skill. As I write this, I’m just an armchair pundit sitting on the sidelines pontificating. I do understand these ideas need to make business sense, and to make business sense they must be viable.
I can speculate that the investors in Tidal do not expect to make back their $50 million from $9.99 subscriptions, their endgame is an IPO or buyout. To be successful at that they will need to create a superior brand image (not off to a good start) and drastically increase their user base. What surprises me most is that they do not have a free version. Make your app accessible to everyone immediately.
On the surface, there is not much distancing Tidal from Spotify or other music services with the exception that Spotify 20x the paying subscribers. The design and layout is strikingly similar. I haven’t a chance to wade through all the millions of songs on either discography, but for all intents and purposes, there doesn’t seem to be a huge advantage on either. Yes, Tidal promises exclusive content from its bullpen of owner-artists (Jay Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Daft Punk, Jack White, Madonna, Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys, Usher, Chris Martin, Calvin Harris, deadmau5, Jason Aldean, J. Cole, and more to come I’m sure) but being inundated with another Nicki Minaj video a day before it finds its way to YouTube is not going to cut it.
Although the 900,000 paying subscribers is up from where Jay-Z bought the service, my guess is this number is decreasing daily after the initial trial run by many users. They need to do something, and do something quick.
A few strange and poorly thought out ideas have floated around. Such as whether or not the artist-owners of Tidal will attempt to pull their music from other streaming services. This is a truly bad idea, not to mention most of the artists don’t control their own streaming rights to begin with. Tidal needs to focus on what it can add to the music experience, not take away from it. Let’s look at the areas that Tidal needs improvement in and how they can do it.
Usability and Features
- ) Open up the service to unpaid users. Offer them a glimpse into what it means to be a Tidal user. Give them them an idea of what they’re missing from not being a premium subscriber. I would even suggest they give away the premium version for 30–90 days to draw people to use it.
- ) Team up with RapGenius to incorporate, within the app, their lyrics and commentary to all available songs. This is something that has been missing from all streaming services, but imagine being able to pull up the lyrics of your favorite song right then and there. Spotify had some apps that could do this, but earlier this year they discontinued the use of third party apps.
- ) Create an IMDB experience for music. Develop a community where users can dive deep in to an artist, where they came from, who they’ve worked with, and what future projects they’re working on. Allow the users to become deeply connected with the artist.
- ) Number 3 above could be a great tie in with Tidal X. There hasn’t been much news on Tidal X, but this is an area in which they could excel. By creating experiences which you can’t find anywhere else. Special concerts, meetups, discussions with artists, and extra content delivered nowhere else. The key here is content. If they can keep creating and pushing artist content and interaction with listeners, this could really set Tidal apart.
- ) Tailor the music experience to the listener. This could easily go under Content as well, but Tidal needs to do a better job of catering to the individual user. TIDAL Rising has some good music, but it’s cumbersome to wade though songs or albums to discover which is to your taste. Create a recommendation engine unparalleled in the music industry. They need to heavily invest in this and set a goal to outdo even Pandora in this respect.
- ) Make it much more social. Not even Spotify has figured this out. They’ve tried, but nothing has seemed to work well enough. Collaborative playlists are a start. A Turntable.fm style experience is another way, but sharing songs and content within the app needs to happen. If it increases the experience, chat can be an option as well. Additionally, make Tidal a destination for artists to speak out. Currently Twitter is the go to social network, but work with artists to communicate to their fanbase on Tidal.
- ) Create a library that die-hard music fans will love. Do me a favor right now, and search through the genres on Tidal. First thing you’ll notice, there are only 21 genres. I know categorizing music by genre can be tough, but if you go to Tidal’s Retro genre, you’ll find Oasis “Wonderwall” right next to Elvis Presley “I Just Can’t Help Believin’” and Johnny Cash “She Used to Love Me a Lot.” Work tirelessly at getting great music, and organizing it in a way that users can find what they like.
- ) Don’t show me an explicit and radio edited album every damn time. There needs to be an option to click a preference and somewhere within the album view to switch back and forth. Stop cluttering the discography. Cleanup the entirety of the discography view. There are 8 versions of Watch the Throne.
- ) Make it possible for quality artists, without a label, to reach the masses. Show success stories of artists making a name for themselves with the help of Tidal. Stop focusing on the top-tiered artists and highlight the struggling country singers, and the rappers hustlin’ the streets with their mixtapes.
- ) Create DJ sets but treat them like albums where you could listen to the set from beginning to end as one mix or skip ahead to a specific track. For this to work you’ll need to team up with labels, and only use songs that you have the streaming rights for, but I don’t anticipate this to be too hard. Feature top billed DJs like Martin Garrix and Steve Aoki and also lesser known talented DJs like Merk & Kremont and Borgeous, or imagine listening to a set from Boy George.
- ) Festival playlists can be a great way to get ready for the summer’s hottest concerts. The last time you attended Outside Lands, how many of the artists had you truly listened to? With festival playlists you can get a jump start so that when the weekend has come, you’re fully prepared to have the best experience. (Bonus: promote Tidal at all festivals highlighting this and other features)
- ) Guest playlists need to be done much better. Looking at Fetty Wap’s featured playlist it looks like a Hot 97 Summer Jam bill, with songs from Migos, Drake, and Kanye. If I wanted to listen to this I would just turn on the radio. You’re insulting your user base with basic playlists like this. Treat your listeners as the sophisticated listener you purport to cater to.
- ) Similarly to the above, the exclusive videos experience needs to be much improved. Imagine a platform where you had access to your favorite artists concerts and shows in real-time, or “day in the life of” features. Bring the listener into the lives of the artist.
- ) Create an A&R experience for listeners. Have labels post singles or demo tapes from up and coming artists which don’t have albums yet. This works in favor of the labels too as a way to gauge interest. They have begun this process with TIDAL Discovery, but it should be expanded upon. Create a way for users to participate in it. Consider incorporating a crowd sourced model for putting out non-label artists’ albums.
- ) You need to create content beyond music, whether it’s behind the scenes videos, articles with artists or producers, ways to connect with artists directly, specials on merchandise, or ways for artists to collaborate with fans. This is one area you can use your artist-owners fame well. Create a space for them to talk directly with users.
- ) Inundate the service with high quality exclusive songs, albums, and mixtapes from artists in all tiers and genres. Don’t put hip-hop fans on a pedestal in this regard. Work with artists like Megan Trainor or Foo Fighters, or lesser know musicians like Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear or Odessa. Tidal should be a destination for the year between album drops. When you just can’t get enough of an artist, you can come to Tidal for new content.
- ) Highlight regional artists. Whether it is jazzy rap coming out of Chicago or Metal in Little Rock, bring the local styles to a global audience. Could someone, anyone, please put Acid Rap on a streaming service.
PR & Marketing
This may be the number one area Tidal needs help.
- ) Start by admitting your mistakes, and communicate how you hope to not only fix these mistakes but improve beyond that. What have you learned thus far from the negative feedback and what can you change to fix that. You need to reverse the public perception of a whining 1% and focus on blue-collar artists.
- ) Get qualitative feedback from potential users on what they want from a music streaming service. Go beyond this is to find out what experience they desire as music lovers in general. Find out if there is a broad market for this and then build what the customer wants. Be diligent about understanding your user base and their needs.
- ) Create strategic partnerships. Work with sites like Complex, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork or The Source to create content featured within the app and within artist pages. Team up with festivals to feature their artists, sell tickets, and provide exclusive experiences. If your high-fidelity service can only be truly experienced on high-end headphones and sound systems, team up with Bose and Sonos to create Tidal branded versions.
- ) Be everywhere, doing good, creating content, and elevating the music experience. Create a culture that emphasizes these values. The bottom-line is not your major concern at this stage of the game. Work to increase your top-line by creating a brand that people love to be associated with. They want to be a Tidal user to show to their friends that they love music and are in the know. Increase subscribers by offering features and content people want to pay for.
- ) Be part of the scene. No one is doing this well, Spotify is not, certainly not Pandora, Beats is the only one even mildly attempting it. Videos like this should be on Tidal before anywhere else, better yet, Tidal should be working with up-and-coming directors to create this content. The dancers in the above video should all be wearing Tidal apparel.
- ) Recommit yourself to the artist and to the love of music. Pay music publishers an even greater percentage of royalties. If possible create a tiered scale where non-label artists are earning 100%. Create scholarships to pay for recording, mixing, singing lessons, etc . Team up with sites like Coursera or DJ TechTools to create content to educate artists on how to produce and release music.
Will Tidal start the long road to improving themselves and saving the service from extinction and becoming the Friendster of music streaming? Who knows, it could be a case of too little too late, but I think there is space in the category for a service they strive to be. They will need to make drastic changes in their company, culture and public imagine to do so. Only time will tell if they can steer in the right direction, but my guess is you won’t need too much time to tell if they’re headed the right way.
Tidal has good intentions, but they need to put their ego aside, their head down, and work hard at providing a superior experience that goes beyond just listening to music.
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