Opinion: Like it or not, Tidal needs more Kanye Wests

Well, folks, Kanye West’s Tidal live-stream of his new album/new fashion line/new video game announcement is in the books. And what a gloriously random event it was.

While the occasion, fed live from Madison Square Garden, was a captivating one, what makes it more noteworthy was that it was streamed to whoever wanted to watch it by Tidal, a small-ish music streaming service owned by Kanye pal Jay-Z.

After witnessing yesterday’s spectacle, it seems like more high-profile, non-exclusive events like this could be exactly what Tidal needs.

To catch those of you who might not have been on Twitter this week, it all centered on Kanye West showing off his latest fashion line, Yeezy Season 3, along with a stream of his latest album, The Life of Pablo. And as a completely unexpected surprise, he also revealed he’s been working on a video game called Only One, which basically depicts his mother going to heaven. Yeah – random.

Personally, this wasn’t for me – I don’t really care much for the new fashion line, and while his new album definitely has some catchy tunes, I’m more of a classic Kanye guy.

But, the buzz around the happenings and the fact I didn’t have to sign up for Tidal to watch it all go down turned me on to what the service is capable of.

Do it for the exposure

Tidal has had a rough time ever since it started, and many critics have outright called the service a flop. Its premise is that while it charges a little extra ($19.99, £19.99, AU$23.99 a month) compared to other streaming services for its “HiFi” sound (as well as paying higher royalties to musicians and songwriters), it offers a better audio quality for those that want it.

Consumers, however, haven’t really been willing to pay extra for the better audio quality. Not only that, but while Tidal also offers a standard, non-high quality service at $9.99 (£9.99, AU$11.99) there are plenty of people around who don’t even know what Tidal is.

Enter Kanye West.

Tidal has streamed plenty of concerts before, but those have almost all been available exclusively to Tidal subscribers. When Kanye announced this all was going down, he was quick to stress that anyone with an internet connection could check it out for themselves – no subscription required. The result? A whopping 20 million people tuned into the Yeezy 3, meaning that many who may not have heard of Tidal before this week are now exposed.

It’s an amazing figure, and should serve as a wake up call for the executives over at Tidal. Sure, providing concerts to subscribers is a nice perk, but offering if it can afford to open streams up to all, it absolutely should. It just might convince some people that signing up is worth it.

Different from the rest

Worldwide live streams and listening parties like Kanye’s can also help differentiate the service from others on the market.

Really the only comparable service in terms of exclusive content is Apple Music, which offers a great radio station, Beats 1, as well as radio shows with celebrities like Pharrell Williams and Jaden Smith. Others, like Spotify and Google Play Music, off a great service, but they don’t really give anything in the way of extras.

This is especially true of such high-profile releases as that of a new Kanye West album. Tidal is in a unique position: owned by Jay Z, a man that has extremely high-profile connections all over the music industry. Really the only other company that can claim this is, again, Apple Music, which has its origins in Beats Music, started by legendary music executive Jimmy Iovine and equally legendary music producer Dr. Dre.

Jay Z could not only use his incredible clout to bring in big-name artists, but also to show audiences “who’s next,” holding open-to-all streams for new artists and exposing a larger audience to them. He could use his celebrity and his platform for incredible music good.

Music is great, but tech is difficult

Of course, there’s one thing seriously standing in the way of Tidal’s success: technology. Everything may have been great on Kanye’s end, but scores of people reported having issues with the stream. Tidal can put together all the great concerts and fashion shows it wants, but if no one is able to properly stream them, then it doesn’t really matter. In fact, if these events are riddled with issues, it could do more damage to the service than good.

Tidal is a streaming service. If it’s unable to stream without issues, it can do irreparable damage to its image. Yes, streaming a live event is different than streaming audio tracks from a server, and Tidal didn’t even handle the technical aspects of the stream, but consumers aren’t thinking about the technical difficulties involved. They’re concerned with whether the service can do what it says it can. When trying to lure customers in, especially to a service that’s more expensive than the rest, image is everything.

Tidal certainly has a future

For a service that was written off as a flop months ago, Tidal isn’t doing too shabbily. But it certainly has a long way to go.

Of course, lowering its “HiFi” prices and letting its better quality be a reason for customers to choose it over other services would be a place to start, but in the absence of that, offering exclusive and high-profile content like the release of a new Kanye album is a great way to go. As long as it’s not a one-time thing.

If Tidal can successfully become “the streaming service for album releases and other exclusive content,” offering high-profile events like Yeezy 3 to all along with exclusive content as an incentive for users to subscribe, it very well could become a major player in the industry.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Tidal evolves following Kanye’s takeover. It’s still a young company, and it seems like it’s coming to the realization that just offering “better” audio quality isn’t going to be enough to seriously compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. It’s the extra stuff that really counts, and Tidal is on the right track with Kanye West. Now, it needs to find another Kanye or two.

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