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The Streaming Music Wars Have Begun

By David Goe


Beyonce's new album "Lemonade" is just the latest album to stream exclusively on Tidal.

 

This past week Queen B Beyonce released her sixth studio album, “Lemonade” to the public ... sort of.

Currently, the album is only streaming on Tidal, Jay-Z’s subscription-based, music-streaming site, and unless you want to fork over $17.99 for the download, Tidal is your only option to hear “Lemonade.”

Recently, Tidal has made news for its exclusive album releases. For a long time, Tidal was the only place to stream Kanye West’s latest album, “The Life of Pablo,” and Rihanna’s “Anti.”

Eventually, both of those albums ended up on other music streaming sites, but those customers had to wait months to get their hands on the records.

As it happens, Tidal also is the exclusive holder of Prince’s complete catalog, so those looking to mourn the icon’s passing through his music could, again, only do so on Tidal.

While Tidal currently is riding a hot streak, the site is still relatively small. With only 3 million reported subscribers, Tidal falls well short of the number of subscribers on Apple Music (11 million) and Spotify (30 million), the other two major players in steaming music.

Last year, revenue from streaming music increased by 45 percent. Digital music as a whole accounts for nearly 50 percent of the music industry’s total profits.

If you’ve yet to jump into the music streaming market, it’s time to consider signing up for a service. Companies such as Tidal, Apple and Spotify all have their pros and cons. Deciding which one of the three to pick can be difficult, so here are some things to consider.

Tidal has two subscription plans, a premium plan for $9.99 and a hifi plan for $19.99 a month. Both plans offer basically the same features, a decent catalog of popular musicians, high-def music videos and curated playlists from A-list musicians. It claims to pay the highest royalties to musicians and songwriters. The hifi plan comes with lossless streaming audio, which is noticeably better than standard streaming quality.

Basically, Tidal is the bottle-service of steaming music. If you are willing to pay a little extra for lossless audio, then you really get a VIP experience.

The downside of owning a Tidal subscription is that you need a really strong internet connection if you want to take advantage of the lossless audio (its debatable whether Grand Junction provides a strong enough connection). Lossless files are much larger than standard audio files and require more bandwidth to stream uninterrupted.

Also, because Tidal is a Swedish-based company, if you pay for your subscription using a credit card you may be subjected to an additional international transaction fee. You can get around this fee by paying with a PayPal account, but it’s an added layer of annoyance.

Much like Tidal, Apple Music has its own stable of exclusive artists. Apple is home to artists such as Taylor Swift and Dr. Dre and will be the exclusive location for Drake’s upcoming album, “Views From The 6.”

Apple has a partnerships with the BBC Radio One’s Zane Lowe, who curates a 24-hour streaming radio station (which is pretty amazing), and NBC’s smash hit “The Voice.” Apple also provides handpicked playlists sorted by genres or activity and boasts a much more robust catalog than Tidal.

The downside of Apple Music includes one of the lowest music streaming qualities and a website and mobile interface that aren’t very intuitive to navigate. If you don’t care about audio quality, at $9.99 a month, it’s a good bargain.

The best thing about Spotify is they give you a paid option at $9.99 and a free-streaming option. The free option does subject you to numerous annoying ads, but you get complete access to the site, including its playlists, which are the easiest to find and navigate.

Spotify boasts one of the larger streaming libraries with more than 30 million songs and reportedly adds 20,000 new songs a day.

The knock against Spotify is a rather big one, however. A number of the biggest musicians refuse to stream their catalogs to the site because of Spotify’s reputation for unfairly compensating artists.

If you are looking for quantity, Spotify is for you. However, if you want to listen to the biggest names in the business, then Apple or Tidal are probably better options.  

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