Despite it being 25 years since the birth of the MP3, the conversation over music distribution remains just as convoluted as when it started.
“We think it’s good for artists and labels to be on Spotify,” said company spokesperson, Jonathan Smith, in a candid interview with Time Magazine. “That’s where the music fans are, and we are confident that’s where artists and labels want to be.”
There’s a distinct flavour of self-serving drivel that oozes out of that statement. It’s a taste you develop a palette for after the constant conversations you’ll have with professional bullshitters as a journalist, a.k.a public relations (no offence, you guys are the ying to my yang).
The mantra can come in all forms, but ultimately, they all end up saying the same tired thing: What’s good for us, is good for you. “
This is a platform that’s owned by artists,” said Jay Z to the Times in regards to Tidal. “We are treating these people that really care about music with the utmost respect.”
We exist in a world where the average listener today can fit thousands of songs in their back pockets, but for some strange reason, we’re forced to listen to audio that’s a step below the offerings of the ’90s.
Alicia Keys so reverently attempted to reinforce this appreciation for music lovers a week ago at Tidal’s press conference, which only served as fodder for social media’s ever critical eye. For many, it was easy to see beyond the guise of the Justice League styled declaration by the artists of the 1 per cent.
The reclaim of art for art’s sake. It sounded like the days when Subway tried to convince the public that its food helped with weight loss. The out of touch nature of it all oozes with half-truths in its larger attempts to make a revenue.
Beyond all the rhetoric, there’s still the glaring truth to the half: that we unfortunately no longer live in the popular times of 18 track CDs and vinyls. Think of how absurd that sounds given our technological advances.
We exist in a world where the average listener today can fit thousands of songs in their back pockets, but for some strange reason, we’re forced to listen to audio that’s a step below the offerings of the ’90s and it’s due to one simple thing, compression.
To understand the need for compression requires a journey through the history of song distribution, which of course began with vinyl; that subtle scratching you’d hear from the clarity of its sound and the short pauses between tracks.
In an effort to produce a McDonald’s styled form of sound (small, cheap and fast), lossless compression was introduced.
For many music enthusiasts, records were considered the medium’s truest canvas. Later came the A-track, which was the first sign that the industry was striving for portability, and following in its footsteps was the far more successful cassette tape.
Afterwards came the CD, with its fancy album sleeves and memorable covers that introduced style and function to audio listening, minus the god-awful skipping of the Discman. The problems that arose as a result of all those formats came from a dysfunctional marriage between portability and sound quality.
The average uncompressed song on a CD can be as big as 40 megabytes in size compared to the comparatively small 3MB of an MP3.
In an effort to produce a McDonald’s styled form of sound (small, cheap and fast), lossless compression was introduced, which cut the same song to a 10th of the size by extracting the parts of a song that the listener couldn’t normally hear. It was essentially like removing the lettuce, cheese and tomato from a burger. It still tasted like a burger but lacked the elements that completed the experience.
It’s in this area of concern that musical artists who back Tidal have a legitimate argument. Music quality has diminished and as an artist (cook), you want your dishes to be tasted in the manner they were meant to be tasted under most circumstances; but forcing consumers to pay top dollar for a dish that tastes subjectively different to every person is another matter.
By that same token, digital distribution has done more to help grassroots musicians than any other form of medium, which makes the concept of “taking it back” as implied by the voice of Tidal all the more obnoxious.
For $19.99/month, consumers are promised a lossless level of dynamically compressed sound, which is considerably closer to the quality matched with most CDs.
Compare that with the $9.99/month premium from Spotify, which offers a maximum of 320kps of lossy audio quality and it sounds like a good deal on paper.
But a lot of what gives Spotify its edge, is in the fact that we live in a portable world dominated by iPods, iPhones and android devices which come bundled with inferior audio hardware. The average listener won’t hear the benefits of lossless sound because the market doesn’t cater to the audiophile.
This is a fact that Jay-Z and his league of extraordinary artists must have known right? It’s a fact that goes without mentioning considering the millions who consume their music through YouTube, which remains available without the protests of said artists.
Then there’s the individualistic issues with the limited storage space of iPhones and data restraints. It all begs the question: Is this is about producing an audio revolution or the payout?
Forcing an audience to consume gourmet dishes in a fast food driven society, so that multi-million dollar artists can receive more bang for their buck is the opposite of being ‘in touch’.
In North America, an artist will get between 0.6 to 84 cents per single play on Spotify, which isn’t much, as a single means of revenue.
By that same token, digital distribution has done more to help grassroots musicians than any other form of medium, which makes the concept of “taking it back” as implied by the voice of Tidal all the more obnoxious. The Justin Biebers, Logics, Soulja Boys and Mac Millers of the world wouldn’t be as known without the fast, cheap and easy methods of distribution that Tidal supporters see as the enemy.
Tidal is a service that’s out of touch with its surroundings, much like the artists that stood on that stage when it launched.
It wants to offer the easy accessibility of digital distribution while ignoring the point; that most consumers will always want it cheap and fast.
Forcing an audience to consume gourmet dishes in a fast food driven society, so that multi-million dollar artists can receive more bang for their buck is the opposite of being ‘in touch’. There’s a market for that, but they aren’t saving anyone because few are asking to be saved, at least for now.