What is Tidal and why are Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Daft Punk et al so keen on it?

A guide to the new streaming music service taking on Spotify

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So, Tidal. What is it? Something to do with the Moon and water…merwolves?

It’s a new streaming music service.

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Great, aren’t there 14 million of those already? What marks this one out from Spotify?

Well, it’s more expensive for one. Unlike Spotify, there is no free, ad-supported option to listen to music. Instead, it costs £9.99 for an entry-level subscription and £19.99 per month for “Lossless High Fidelity” streaming. There are free month-long trials for both services on the Tidal website.

But…but…I like free, even if I have to sit through thousands of adverts for community college and the army. Who would want this?

Well, the musicians. Tidal bills itself as the first ‘artist owned’ streaming platform. This is literally true in the case of Jay Z, who bought the company for about £37 million. Artists have been complaining about the miniscule payments they get per play from Spotify. Without having to drag rates down for a free service, Tidal is likely to be more generous. That’s probably why so many of Hova’s friends showed up to the launch.

Who was there?

Everyone. Everyone. Alicia Keys made a speech. Kanye West told everyone to change their profile pictures blue. Beyoncé, Rihanna, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Chris Martin (via video link), Daft Punk, everyone. With the typical understatement of bestselling musicians, they declared it a new era in history and took turns signing some sort of declaration. It was like if the UN had French robots. Here’s a video.

What’s the killer app?

Well, the star power is impressive in itself, and suggests Tidal won’t have the same issue convincing major artists to hand over their back catalogues that other companies face. Are you a Taylor Swiftian? After the well-publicised withdrawal of her songs from Spotify, her latest album 1989 is already available on Tidal.

Wait, did you say Kanye wants me to turn my profile picture blue?

Yes. As a form of solidarity with the artists/free advertising.

Isn’t the market getting a bit crowded?

You might think that –what with Spotify and Rdio and others– but there’s clearly still money to be made. For instance, the purchase of Beats by Apple was widely seen as a step towards the tech giant launching their own service, as was DJ Zane Lowe leaving the BBC for a job at the company.

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But no merwolves?

Interestingly, they have wolf bodies and fish heads.