There is a growing choice of brands offering platforms for listening to streamed music, and I want to tell you that after using both paid for versions of iTunes and Spotify why as a music producer I chose TIDAL.
What I first want to say is as composers and producers we should pay for music, period. There is no such thing as free music, someone has to pay, and in the current climate, it is the artists that pay for this magical supply of free music. We can't, on the one hand, bemoan the poor return for our work and then support free music platforms. It's like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
I pay for both my music and the music my whole family listen to.
If you work in audio production and still take music for free, then you are part of the problem, not the answer.
So all three services I want to talk about are the paid-for-versions of the services. Let me tell you about my experience, and why I think TIDAL is the only service for music producers.
You may have a different experience, if so then please let us know in the comments.
iTunes - How Apple Took Control
Apple was the first company to bring legal streaming to the masses with iTunes; it was like magic. You could browse for 'all' your favourite tracks within reason. In the early days, some big acts like The Beatles and Michael Jackson held back for a better deal, but are now part of the offering.
iTunes and Apple devices combined with deals with record labels created an 'unbeatable' music ecosystem for the modern age of music streaming.
If you own Apple devices, then the connection between your account and those devices is seamless. Open iTunes (now Apple Music) on your iPhone and all your music is there, the same on your iPad and your laptop or desktop.
Regarding choice and features, there is no doubting Apple Music has a lot to offer; my kids love it, and I still have it on my Apple devices, but I try and avoid using it if I can, more about that...
Apple Music - A Digital Car Crash
Then came Apple music... where to start?
Let's start with the software, which I can only imagine was designed either by a first-year UI design student with ADD or by someone who last had a job developing those 1980s adventure games. Apple Music is the most infuriatingly unusable software experience on the planet and if you are new to this blog then ask anyone how much saying that sticks in the throat of this Apple Fanboy.
For example a couple of days ago I was listening to a track I have as part of the collection downloaded on my Mac, and when I went to find the rest of the music, there was nothing. After 2 minutes of trying to locate the music that had been there less than 5 minutes before I gave up.
Apple Music is a design catastrophe and Apple need to sort it out.
Furthermore, the audio quality from Apple music currently streams at 256Kbps AAC format. It may sound OK on earbuds, but until you listen to music on lossless formats, you forget just how bad it is and how we've come to accept mediocre audio quality as a trade for convenience.
Spotify - An Improvement
Not as bad as Apple for usability or quality, stretching the format to 320Kps for Premium subscribers so while not lossless it's still not brilliant.
While Spotify claims to have a huge choice of music many of the searches return not the original track but a version by another artist.
The Quality Debate
Now at this point, I'm sure there is someone who is going to quote one of the many articles saying most people can't tell the difference between a lossless and compressed audio format when blind tested. They are probably right, one of my favourite industry books 'Perfecting Sound Forever' speaks about this, but as far as I'm concerned our job as music professionals is to maintain standards not join the race to the bottom.
It's a fact that most cable companies and TV sets can't deliver formats anywhere close to the uncompressed quality the movie was edited in during production. Look at the dark colours blocking on any movie on an HD TV, some of that is down to the encoding, some the video downstream and some the TV. Does this mean all film makers should simply shoot at MP4?
Lowest common denominator? No thanks!
Quality. I can listen to music in a lossless format.
I can hear a difference, and that's all that matters.
Perhaps I've fallen for a digital placebo? I don't think so, but if I have I don't care, it makes me happy and stirs my soul and isn't that what music is about?
Since subscribing to TIDAL, I've found a pleasure of listening to music that I've not had for a long time, in fact for a very long time. I feel like I've gotten my music collection back and not some poor quality version of tracks I used to love. I've spent hours finding music from my youth, The Ruts, Stiff Little Fingers, The Tubes, Thomas Dolby and they sound like I remember. I've listened to everything from Steely Dan to Mozart, Mavis Staples to John Coltrane, all in staggering detail and full of energy, not that odd flatness from compressed formats we've come to call normal. It isn't normal. Frankly, it's crap, and we shouldn't accept it.
We sold out on quality for convenience and accessibility, and we need to recover it once more.
Which leads me to criticism levelled at TIDAL, and that is the choice. Since using it I'm yet to search for a track and not found it, in fact, I've had more success with TIDAL than Spotify, which can sometimes deliver a song in search and when you play it you find it is a cover version. That's not happened to me yet!
Credit Where Credit Is Due
One of the biggest issues for artists with music streaming services is the lack of credits for tracks. Producer Tommy Danvers has been working hard along with the MPG to change this for several years, I was honoured to work with him on a video about it some years ago. Read more about it here
The listener has no ideas who contributed, and the contributor remains uncredited. Those of us who create the content should be outraged at this as much as we should be about the quality.
So imagine my delight to be able to find out who played bass on a track, or who mixed it, or who wrote the song. This is the minimum music streaming services should be offering, as well as better payments for the artists.
Credits on TIDAL are not perfect, but they are at least having a go at righting this wrong. Right now I think Apple and Spotify still don't credit artists, producers and all the other talent that goes into making the music. If they do credit then I'll be damned if I can find it.
Cat = Pigeons
In summary, the subject of music streaming services is a hot potato for the music industry, but for me, TIDAL offers a light at the end of the tunnel.
I am reminded of an old print ad from the 1950's for a car, the headline said "Why are companies still making poor quality cars?" and the subhead was "Because you are still buying them."
We can complain as much as we like about the bad deal music producers, artists, musicians, engineers, and writers get from music streaming services; I don't think it makes much difference as long as the money keeps rolling in.
Or we can vote with our wallet, in my opinion, TIDAL is the only service that should get my money and that's why I've signed up for the $19.99 per month service. If you work in the music production industry and think $19.99 is a lot of money to spend on music each month then I suggest you are in the wrong business.
Better quality and credits make TIDAL the music producers friend.