MCCARTHY: TIDAL has not lived up to promises

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When TIDAL launched last year it promised to be different. In addition to offering a premium lossless audio quality service, TIDAL billed itself as a music streaming service owned by artists for artists. Unfortunately, it has not lived up to this promise.

The streaming service has stumbled at pretty much every turn. In 2016 alone, TIDAL has faced lawsuits for underpaying royalties and misleading customers.

Music streaming arose as a way to combat piracy. By providing a superior service, selection and convenience, companies like Spotify and Google have been able to pay billions of dollars in royalties to musicians. But this system was never perfect. The majority of the money from streaming usually finds its way to superstars and record labels at the expense of independent and less well known musicians.

At last year’s launch the owners of TIDAL, including Jack White, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk and members of Arcade Fire, among others, stood on stage as the company announced how it was going to save the music industry by making music valuable again. It has done the exact opposite.

In order to attract subscribers, TIDAL offers exclusive albums like Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” and Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” While both have led to an increase in subscribers and app downloads, they have also led to a piracy firestorm.

“Lemonade” is currently the number five pirated album on the Pirate Bay just over twenty-four hours into its release and “The Life of Pablo” is still holding strong to the top spot.

Album exclusives are inherently anti-consumer. They encourage piracy, divide the community and discourage casual music fans. Instead of paying ten bucks to buy a CD or digital copy, which the consumer actually owns, fans must now subscribe to hear new music from their favorite performers. It eliminates consumer choice and makes it more difficult to discover new music and genres. It creates the very problems that streaming attempted to solve: rampant piracy.

Perhaps TIDAL’s greatest failure was its inability to deliver on its promise of transparency. It is extremely difficult to get an accurate answer from any streaming service in regard to an artist’s royalties. In a 2014 Time article, Spotify claimed it pays between $0.007 and $0.0084 per stream. In a statement last year, TIDAL claimed it pays artists between $0.024 and $0.028. Leaked royalty statements seem to dispute both companies’ numbers, showing a much wider range of payment rates. Does TIDAL actually pay artists better than Spotify? The real answer is nobody knows.

In the end, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard described TIDAL’s failure best in an interview with The Daily Beast last year. He said, “There was a wonderful opportunity squandered to highlight what this service would mean for artists who are struggling and to make a plea to people’s hearts and pocketbooks to pay a little more for this service that was going to pay these artists a more reasonable streaming rate. And they didn’t do it. That’s why this thing is going to fail miserably.”