10 reasons Tidal is so doomed, not even Jay-Z can save it

tidal track edit why is doomed 004
We gave it our best shot, but after some deep soul-searching, we’ve come to a difficult decision: We’re breaking up with Tidal.

Between the constantly rotating door of executives, multiple flopped record releases, and a steady onslaught of lawsuits surrounding the company, the streaming music service is a complete mess. Over the past few months, we’ve been writing about Tidal as though it’s an industry contender, but if Tidal is anything it’s a force in pop culture, not the streaming game — a soap opera we tire of tuning into. And we don’t want to watch anymore.

Let’s be frank: The reason Tidal makes headlines is because Jay-Z and a few other high profile artists own shares.

Let’s be frank: The reason Tidal makes headlines is because Jay-Z and a few other high profile artists own shares. That’s not a good reason to write about a company that hasn’t been, and will probably never be, a real contender for streaming supremacy. Tidal headlines clog up the presses and bring undue attention to where music streaming is failing rather than where it succeeds. It’s a distraction from relevant services like Rhapsody — which still has three times the number of paid subscribers as Tidal — and SoundCloud and Bandcamp.

We take no joy in saying this, but it’s time we recognize Tidal is likely doomed. Here’s how things got to this point.

Tidal isn’t accomplishing what it set out to do

As professional reviewers of music and audio equipment at a tech-centered media company, the editorial staff at Digital Trends was probably more excited for Tidal’s U.S. launch than most. The service had forged partnerships with Hi-Fi companies like Sonos, Denon, and Harman/Kardon, and promised that it would become an essential — if slightly higher-end — part of the streaming music world.

In addition to better quality music, executives and its initial 18 musician-owners looked poised to deliver exciting exclusive content, with better pay and margins for artists — all of which appealed to enthusiastic music industry supporters like us. Those hopes and expectations haven’t been met, though. Sure, Tidal’s premium audio tier sounds better than its competition, but, as the LA Times notes, Tidal isn’t the poster child for artists’ rights it set out to be. In fact, many industry members would say that Tidal is actually fueling piracy.

Tidal Announcement
Kevin Mazur/Getty
Kevin Mazur/Getty

That’s because the argument Jay Z and his fellow stars made at the Tidal launch (including Nicki Minaj, Madonna, and Beyoncé) was fashioned from self-interest. They said that they, as big-name artists, deserve to set the price for their music. But the reality is that already established musicians setting a higher price point for their own music probably doesn’t help struggling artists.

Ironically, Tidal isn’t even the best streaming destination for the music of the 16 original artists who got three percent stakes in the company for endorsing it.

Tidal’s business model might be unsustainable

Tidal claims to be paying the vast majority of its revenue — and five times the amount per play as Spotify — back to artists and labels in the form of royalties. That sounds generous and progressive, until one realizes that larger music services don’t pay more because they simply can’t afford to.

Services like Apple Music, Rhapsody, SoundCloud, and Spotify all lose massive amounts of money each year. So how can Tidal stay afloat given they pay so much more for music and have a significantly lower subscriber count? The numbers, at least from a distance, don’t appear to add up.

Tidal has a history of tech troubles

Tidal accidentally charged users for subscriptions they had previously cancelled, which ruffled a lot of feathers. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the company’s tech troubles.

During the live stream of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, many users experienced serious streaming issues. Then, a few days later, those same people were mistakenly allowed to purchase the album for a brief period before it was pulled from the service. And — more on this later — that wasn’t the first time new material was accidentally posted early on the service.

Tidal is getting eaten alive by its competition

Tidal’s own artists are jumping ship in search of higher streaming and sales numbers at rival services, even when they’ve sworn they wouldn’t. Making that promise was a bad call, but diversifying is essential. The reality of the low-margin streaming music business is: more plays = more money, regardless of where those plays come from. Tidal can’t change that. The service may pay higher rates per stream than competitors, but its competition has exponentially more users, forcing most artists to embrace other services like Apple Music and Spotify, even if they pay less.

Such high turnover is an extremely bad sign for the health of any company.

For example, based on music streaming royalty reports, it takes 81,000 streams per month to make Federal minimum wage via Tidal, whereas it takes 242,000 Spotify plays to reach the same goal. Spotify requires more streams, certainly, but since it has over 10 times the number of paying users, musicians will likely make their nut much faster with Spotfiy than Tidal. And that’s just one alternate streaming service. Apple music only serves to increase the odds that a musician will bank significant revenue.

Tidal exclusives are a bad idea for any musician, large or small. Yet the company keeps pressing for them, resulting in an unintended yet very real consequence: piracy.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

Google Chromecast returns to Amazon just in time for the holiday shopping crunch

It's been a chilly few years between Google and Amazon, but things may be improving. You can now buy two versions of Google's Chromecast on Amazon, something that hasn't be possible since 2015.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Marshawn Lynch, Netflix streaming data, and more

The NES and SNES Classic Editions may be being discontinued, but new streaming data from Netflix has been released, and we sat down with Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch on Thursday's episode of Digital Trends Live.
Home Theater

Radiohead, The Cure, and more to join Rock Hall of Fame. Listen to their hits

Radiohead, The Cure, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, and more have been selected to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. Here are our favorite songs from the four artists' hit-filled careers.
Music

The best new music this week: Josh Homme, Domo Genesis, and more

Are you looking for the best new music? Each week, we scour the internet to find the most compelling new releases just for you. On tap this week: Josh Homme, Domo Genesis, Eddie Palmieri, and Jacob Collier.
Computing

Block out the sun and drown out the haters with Bose’s new AR sunglasses

Bose has announced its quirkiest listening device yet, a pair of headphone-integrated sunglasses that allow you to meander the brightest places with your favorite tunes in tow. Called the Frames, the glasses will sport 3.5 hours of battery.
Home Theater

Spotify Wrapped reveals rad facts about your musical tastes and habits

The website may be a bit tough to find at first, but Spotify Wrapped tells you awesome facts about your year in listening. From how many minutes you spent jamming out to your top artists, and beyond, there's a lot to dig into.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.
Music

From Paul McCartney to Mariah Carey, this is the best holiday music

Whether you're a fan of classic jazz standards or modern R&B masterpieces, there's something for everyone on our playlist of the best holiday music. Pour some eggnog and curl up by the fire, this one is sure to get you in the holiday…
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Music

Apple Music may sign up more exclusive artists with purchase of Platoon

Apple purchased London-based Platoon, which is a startup that helps independent musicians get discovered by major labels. The acquisition may help Apple Music sign up more exclusive artists.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Music

Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ becomes the most-streamed 20th-century song

Queen's iconic Bohemian Rhapsody has become the most-streamed 20th-century song. Knocking Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit off the top spot, the British band's 1975 classic has now been streamed 1.6 billion times globally.
Music

Jam out in style with the 25 best playlists on Spotify

Music is the world's most potent drug, and the best playlists on Spotify will make you catch feelings. We've scoured the service for its top collections, and brought them together in one place -- for you.
Music

From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.
1 of 2