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Tidal launches free subscription tier and more ways for artists to get paid

Tidal, the streaming music service once co-owned by Jay Z, now has a free subscription tier, bringing it in line with Spotify and Amazon Music, both of which offer free listening options. Known as Tidal Free, it’s only available in the U.S. for now.  The company says that the free tier will offer access to its entire music catalog and playlists, with “limited interruptions.” It did not specify if those interruptions would be ads from third parties, or simply promotions for Tidal’s paid subscription options.

Tidal Free joins the $10 per month Tidal HiFi tier, which was previously named Tidal Premium, and the $20 per month Tidal HiFi Plus (previously Tidal HiFi). The $10 per month tier now includes lossless, CD-quality tracks, which was previously only available at the more expensive $20 per month price. This was likely done to keep pace with Apple Music, which added lossless audio and Dolby Atmos Music to its standard $10 per month offering earlier in 2021. Amazon Music also includes lossless, Dolby Atmos Music, and Sony 360 Reality Audio (360RA) in its standard $10 per month plan.

Tidal's subscription tiers.

The company, which was acquired by Jack Dorsey’s payment company, Square, in April 2021, is also introducing new ways for artists to make money through the streaming service.  Those who subscribe to Tidal HiFi Plus will now influence which artists get a larger share of Tidal’s royalties.

The new direct-to-artist payment plan is a monthly program where a percentage of HiFi Plus members’ fees — up to 10%, according to the Tidal website — will be given directly to their top streamed artist each month. These payments are over and above the artists’ expected streaming royalties and create a more direct relationship between listeners and the artists they love. HiFi Plus members will be able to see monthly reports of their streaming histories so they can keep tabs on their top artists.

Tidal top artist screen.

In a similar move, artist royalties will now be based on the listener’s actual streaming activity. Previously, Tidal used what it claims is the industry norm of aggregating attributed royalties. Tidal calls the new payment system “Fan-centric royalties.”

Spotify, by contrast, uses a different system of royalty payments and claims that it does not pay artists on a per-stream basis. Spotify has 172 million global subscribers, making it the largest music streaming service. Tidal has been reticent about sharing its subscriber numbers. The last figure it released was 3 million, but that was in 2016. Perhaps now that it has a free streaming tier, Tidal will begin to release more up-to-date numbers.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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