Music has become an essential part of today’s society. Recognizing this, many companies have taken the opportunity to make a business out of this by streaming music to its customers. From Spotify to Apple Music, there are a plethora of streaming companies to choose from. One company, Tidal, stands apart from the rest through their dedication to the artists on their platform and their music. After analyzing the circuit of culture, we can see how through every aspect of Tidal affirms this idea of the artist being the first priority.
Representation is defined as “the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.” This is one of the five elements of the Circuit of Culture and Paul du Gay describes it as “the way an object is represented…in language, both oral and visual.” (du Gay, 1997). In the case of Tidal, representation is essential. From its announcement video in 2015, we see a sense of representation being a key theme within the platform. Artists that came together to form the music platform such as Alicia Keys, Jay Z, J. Cole, Rihanna and others have all placed an emphasis on the artist having power. Tidal pays its artists a higher amount compared to other companies such as Spotify and Apple Music. In fact, as of June 2021, Tidal pays its artists a total of $0.01284 per stream as compared to Spotify and Apple Music’s $0.00437 and $0.00783, respectively. Only Napster pays its artists more per stream, $0.019, than Tidal. (FreeYourMusic, 2021). Tidal’s move to pay its artists more is a part of its culture to empower the artists rather than the platform. As we see in their 2015 announcement video, the emphasis has been placed on the artist and the art that they create. However, they have seen some backlash to this as many think that it is all just the untampered greed of billionaires who are mad about losing money from their streams. While this view is important to consider, it is also important to recognize that these are not the only artists in the world. Many underground and aspiring artists would benefit from this change. Platforms such as Spotify take nearly three times more from artists than Tidal does. While this may be rather inconsequential to established and well-renowned artists such as Beyonce, it can really affect the careers of aspiring artists. Those artists who are not able to work full time on their music because they are not being paid enough could find themselves leaving the music industry and their dreams all because of the “greed” of massive music corporations. When artists revenue from streams are increased, it gives them more time to produce other music and improve their music for their fans. Representation plays a big role for Tidal, rather than just viewing the service as a better alternative for artists, what it truly represents is a way to put the power of music back into the hands of the artist.
Tidal is regulated in the form of paywalls. A paywall is defined as “a method of restricting access to content, with a purchase or a paid subscription.” Tidal implements this method into their service but in a hybrid way. The service comes in three different tiers: Free, HiFi and HiFi Plus. Each gives you access to all Tidal’s vast plethora of music to stream from but all in very different ways. Tidal’s Free option gives you access to any song you want; however, you must choose the song from the album it is on which is always shuffled. On top of that, it will only allow you to skip a limited number of songs in a certain amount of time. All of this comes with the additional ads that users must listen to in-between their streams. Their second tier, HiFi, is an increase to $9.99 per month with some added features. This tier grants you ad-free music streaming, as well as unlimited skips and a higher quality sound. This tier also allows you to play any song you want from any album that you want, even going as far as allowing you to download whatever song, album and make any playlist that you want. Their most expensive tier, HiFi Plus, grants users even more features for an increased price of $19.99. HiFi Plus grants users access to different audio formats such as Sony’s and Dolby Atmos’. HiFi Plus also gives users the ability to further support their favorite artists. This tier grants a user’s favorite artists up to 10% of what they pay to Tidal for their subscription. While these prices do seem to be quite expensive, Tidal provides other ways to access its content for a cheaper price if you qualify. The company does offer a family plan that increases the total price to $14.99 and $29.99 for its HiFi and HiFi Plus plans respectively. This plan allows for 5 other individual accounts to be created, all connected to one central account that is being charged. Tidal also offers discounts to certain groups like students, military personnel, and first responders. The company offers a 50% discount to students in high school and college, age 16 and above, on both their HiFi and HiFi Plus plans, as well as the individual and family plans. The company offers a 40% discount to military and first responders on both the individual levels of the HiFi and HiFi Plus plans. This form of regulation helps Tidal provide a good service to its customers while giving their artists the credit due for their work.
Another way to examine the cultural history of Tidal is through the means of its production. While the majority of the shares of Tidal are owned by its parent company, Square, the service has a heavily influenced by its artists that own shares in the company. Artists such as Usher, Calvin Harris, Jay-Z, Beyonce and others try to use their influence within music to help steer the company in the right direction. These artists who can afford to go against massive music corporations have all come together to help those who are starting their music careers or just now finding their groove to more easily thrive, through their higher payout compared to other companies. This idea of “the love of music” is one that is essential to those connected to Tidal and their mission to proceed with the platform. From their 2015 announcement on YouTube, Jay-Z says to the other artists in the room that “everyone here is that term ‘icon’ but we at one point we all have had that love of music.” These artists that own stake in the company are devoted to cultivating that love of music and try to produce music in a way that does this. In the same way, they try to make sure that the production of the company cultivates this love by focusing on the artist and their art. The increase of pay to its artists is just one way the company achieves this, however, they go even further to connect the fan to the artists. “Tidal Originals” are “Revealing interview series, documentaries and special events that bring your favorite artists closer than ever.” Through this, the company hopes to show fans the behind the scenes of songwriting and what many of their favorite artists have/had to do to get to the place they are now. Another way we see this culture of artist cultivation is through “Tidal Credits”. Tidal Credits is a way to further acknowledge the unsung voices within song production. In their app and on their website, there is an information button for any song that you are playing which will show you all who were involved in writing that song. It shows information such as the song writer, the producers and even the mixers of the song. In these ways, we see Tidal’s philosophy of “the artist first” still prevail. Their dedication to bringing to light every single person involved in the making of a song and making sure they get their credit is yet another way they stand out from the competition.
Logic would imply that if something is being produced, then it will also be consumed. This leads us to another element within the circuit of culture, Consumption. In reference to Tidal, the consumer would be the artist’s fans. As we’ve seen before in Production and Regulation, Tidal is made in a way that it benefits the individual artist rather than the company itself. However, in doing this, it also benefits the consumer or in this case, the artist’s fans. With the way the company is structured, the artist is able to do a lot more for the fan than in other streaming platforms. With this artist were able to launch exclusive albums and singles on the platform for only Tidal subscribers to listen to. Albums such as Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and Jay-Z’s “4:44” were Tidal exclusives. However, due to mounting pressure to release on other platforms, these two albums, like all other Tidal exclusive albums, later released on different platforms. However, Tidal does offer other benefits to its customers in the form of their HiFi and HiFi Plus tiers. These two tiers give the listener a higher quality sound, with HiFi being in lossless audio and HiFi Plus being in Master Authenticated Quality Audio. However, with higher quality audio being released in other platforms as well, what truly sets Tidal apart is the ability to directly support your favorite artist. 10% of Tidal subscribers’ subscription fee is sent to their favorite artist giving a person the ability to feel as though they are directly supporting their favorite artist by continually streaming them as opposed to Apple Music, Spotify, and other streaming platforms. The company is also launching a system of “fan centered royalties” in January of 2022. What this will do is pay artists “based on the actual streaming activity of fans vs. the typical industry-accepted method of aggregating streams and allocating it to the most popular artists.” (Chan, 2021). This approach will not only directly benefit artists, but also give their fans a sense of fulfillment knowing that they are directly supporting them every single time they stream one of their songs, as opposed to one of the other platforms, where one might feel that their “voice” gets lost amongst the millions of other streamers on the platform.
The aforementioned information all helps give Tidal a sense of identity and quite simply, that identity is one of the music being the number one priority, to both the company and the consumers. Tidal has branded itself as the service that is focused on artist success and through this, they gain a form of identity. This identity affects every facet of the company, from production to regulation, every decision made is made with the artist in mind. They apply this concept to all who are connected to a song and not just the main artist. For instance, their “Contributor Mix” is a playlist made up of different songs that have a common songwriter or producer that you may like based on your listening patterns. In reference to why they added this feature, the company said,
“A finished song or album is the end of a long, challenging journey that involves talent and vision with moments of inspiration and frustration mixed in. No one gets there alone…
That’s what Contributor Mix is all about: a curated selection of playlists based upon your listening patterns and featuring songs that share a common producer or songwriter.” (Tidal, 2021).
Again we see here this idea not only the artist getting the credit they deserve but also those in the background whose names may not be as prominent. Tidal takes each individual part of a song or album and brings those who are responsible for making those things happen into the spotlight for all to see. They even take this further to include all artists, the new and upcoming and not just the established ones. “Tidal Unplugged” is an opportunity granted to aspiring artists to try their talents using the best resources available in the music industry. The company offered 5 artists from Detroit a grant which gave them insight into what life as a musician is like. “The recipients of the grant will receive professional one-on-one training and access to personalized resources to hone their craft to most effectively grow their careers— studio time, training lessons, equipment, marketing, tour expenses, and more.” (PRNewswire, 2021). Tidal’s devotion to even the newer artists shows what the company identifies as, a voice for those in music who dream of one day performing on the biggest stages and Tidal has taken it upon themselves to help make their dreams a reality.
Tidal has become one of the most established music streaming services currently available, and they have done this through their dedication to their artists. We see, using the circuit of culture for guidance, that Tidal has used this idea of prioritizing the artist in every single aspect of their company. This idea sets Tidal apart from other streaming services and brings all those connected to it a greater sense of fulfillment.
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