Apple Music, Tidal and the waves of hate still crashing in for streaming

On June 15, 2015

When tech companies abuse music, please don’t be shocked

Much like the launch of Tidal, the Apple Music announcement has been surrounded by controversy and outrage. Spotify is no longer the only player in the streaming game getting bashed with criticism about its practices (which it’s probably a tiny bit pleased about). However, unlike Tidal, Apple is a much bigger player in the music game and will have a much easier time bringing their service to market. Where Tidal launched on the back of its star studded partners, Apple launches on the back of its brand loyalty and large consumer base. The front-facing staging for these services is slick and cool, so why has there been so much rage?

The Tidal wave of hate

Jay-Z’s adventure with Tidal started on a poor footing. Aspiro, the Swedish parent company behind Tidal, initially accepted a $56m bid upon shareholder approval, causing a clash between minor and major shareholders. After a bit of nudging, the offer was fully accepted. The next move integrated the Norwegian platform WiMP, with the plan to create a high quality streaming platform.

The plan was starting to look solid: cool Scandinavian companies, CHECK! High quality streaming service to appease casual and audiophile listeners alike, CHECK! Superstar owner who could tap into brand loyalty, CHECK! But then, the biggest face-palm in recent music business history… Madonna Tidal Signing

Not just the awkward yoga that went down in the middle of the launch event, but the whole event itself. If conspiracy theorists wanted anymore fuel for their music illuminati claims, Tidal was like striking oil. The brain-fart went something like this: forget the Aspiro and WiMP tech cool factor, the potential for new and interesting models of streaming, the introduction of high quality, lossless streaming. Let’s just throw some of music’s richest people together to talk about how hard life is. These people a) don’t really make much of their income from sales or streaming anyway, b) hardly struggle to get their music heard in the big old nasty music market, c) mostly don’t own any of their music rights anyway and d) talk up transparency with royalties but aren’t actually able to change or even discuss how major labels work due to their secrecy and NDAs. Tidal partners have an estimate combined wealth of $2.8bn. I doubt they are in it for the little man, but they might just get something for themselves.

The launch was partnered with a #TidalForAll Twitter campaign, which in true Twitter backlash fashion birthed a #TidalForNoOne tag to show dislike for the pompous event. It split Twitter for days; even Spotify got in a jab at Tidal’s VERY similar GUI before quickly taking down this little gem…

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Banners and dividing lines are appearing faster than an episode of Game of Thrones. Read any comment section accompanying an article about Tidal/Spotify and you’ll find the dung flying. No wonder they call it the “bottom” half of the internet. Many have written off Tidal before it has had a chance to gain pace, and part of me believes it is unfair. I think the company would have had a better chance building from a position as a small Swedish tech firm focusing on artists’ needs and high quality streaming, rather than being worn like another gold chain around Jay-Z’s neck. Given the internet’s love for burning celebrities in an almost cyber-bully fashion, the new crew at Tidal should have known better.

Apple Music Launch

Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Apple launched their new music product in traditional Apple style. The usual blackout room, empty stage and glowing display rang in what we all knew was approaching. The iTunes music store was launched in 2003 and has been the biggest music vendor in the world since 2010. But let’s remember the plan that got iTunes to where it is now.

Back in 2003, Steve Jobs made it clear that iTunes was set up to be a loss leader. ‘Most of the money goes to the music companies,’ admitted Jobs. ‘We would like to break even/make a little bit of money but it’s not a money maker.’ Essentially, Apple didn’t really care about making money from music as long as it helped to shift iPods. The pick ‘n mix era of digital music purchasing is well established. Consumers normally led to purchase albums could now purchase just the bits they wanted. And the money paid for each song is sliced up so many times between credit card companies, record labels and rights organisations that musicians might see only a few cents at the end of it all. Alongside all of this was the ‘non-negotiable’ DRM, which turned out to be pretty negotiable once people stopped buying and kept pirating.

The huge popularity of Apple’s iTunes store comes from both its simplicity and the cool factor of its attached products – and this is what will help Apple win again. The fact that it doesn’t need to win this battle means that it probably will. Although the iPod is being killed off, the iPhone and iPad lines are still selling well, and the brand still sees fierce loyalty. The Beats brand recently purchased by Apple shows similar qualities, even if the quality isn’t in their actual build or technical specs. The $3.2bn thrown at Dre and Co. was enough to purchase both the headphone and streaming business they had been building. Much like Tidal, Beats was built on a platform of superstars donning the now famous big red B. The brand was never about high quality, but more on high brand exposure – especially when you consider the reports earlier in the year that those fancy headsets that set your folks back $300 at Christmas were actually worth about $14 in bits.

So Apple should have this sewn up right? Cool tech, CHECK! Cool brand, CHECK! Dr Dre, CHECK! Quick market population, CHECK!

The rage directed at Apple is coming from a slightly different place. Rather than the general distaste for music millionaires, Apple has been falling under the microscope of industry regulators for allegedly strong-arming labels during contract negotiations, while also asking indies to waive royalty payments during the free three-month trial period. US indie body A2im has advised indies not to feel rushed into anything by Apple, with CIMA in Canada expressing similar outrage. Apple is the biggest brand in the world when it comes to sheer CA$H, and it wants little indies (who have such a ‘huge’ income already)  to work for its product for free. I’m surprised it hasn’t told musicians that it will look good on their CV or something.

Hey Spotify…

So, Daniel Ek and his team in Stockholm have some new kids joining the school of streaming. I imagine it’s like those movies where one jock kid rules the school and beats down on the geeks, and then another more awesome kid joins and takes down the jock kid, leading to high fives, fist pumps and stealing the girl. The problem is, I have no idea who is in what role. Are the consumers the geeks? Are the musicians? Who is the good/bad jock? Who gets the girl?! The fact that I’m comparing the streaming game to immature high school movies probably says something anyway. And like in these movies, the ending – or the means to it – is hardly shocking.

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