Tidal looks like a ticking time bomb -- here's what went wrong with Jay Z's music streaming service

Kanye West Jay Z TidalGetty Images(L-R) Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West, and JAY Z onstage at the Tidal launch event #TIDALforALL at Skylight at Moynihan Station on March 30, 2015 in New York City.

It seemed like a happy marriage in January this year when Jay Z bought Aspiro, the parent company of streaming platforms WiMP and Tidal. All the products were rolled into one premium music streaming service, called Tidal.

The new company, which relaunched March 30, claimed it would offer customers higher-quality listening than any other streaming service on the market, while helping subscribers discover music through curated playlists.

The goal for Jay Z: challenge far more established streaming giants like Spotify and, hopefully, win.

A billion-dollar roster of artists joined the endeavour, from Coldplay, Deadmau5, Daft Punk and Alicia Keys — to Calvin Harris, Jack White, Madonna, Usher, Arcade Fire and Rihanna. Also on board — Jay Z’s wife, Beyoncé, among many other artists who assumed co-ownerships of Tidal.

Jay Z touted Tidal as the artists’ platform — reportedly offering millions of dollars and equity stakes in the company to some choice talent. 

Artists initially praised Tidal for presenting their music in such a high-quality format. And musicians would be paid “double the royalties of other streaming services,” according to former Tidal CEO, Andy Chen.

Chen told the International Business Times in November last year, “It’s a win-win for everyone.” 

But, maybe not. Tidal had a rough launch less than six months ago, and things have been turbulent ever since.

Now the company looks like a ticking time bomb.

Jay z

Evan Agostini / AP Images

What went wrong

For starters, Tidal’s biggest selling point — high-fidelity audio — requires a $US20-per-month subscription.

Tidal’s cheaper $US10-per-month service doesn’t offer much incentive to switch, because it’s nearly identical to its similarly priced competitors.

“They probably could’ve did something more exciting,” said rapper 50 Cent in a radio interview in May. “Why would you actually buy Tidal to get something that would be everywhere else?”

Interest in the app has been crashing, too. According to App Annie, it plummeted from the top 500 apps downloaded in the US earlier this year, and as of Tuesday, was the 107th most downloaded app in the music category.

Another problem, often overlooked,  is that Tidal’s high-fidelity service streams songs at 1,411 kbps. That’s roughly 40 MB of data for one 3 1/2-minute song. Some subscribers could end up maxing out their data plans if they’re not careful.

Andy chen aspiro ceo tidalAndy Chen/Aspiro GroupAspiro CEO Andy Chen.

The revolving door

Tidal’s executive suite has been unstable. The company’s first CEO, Andy Chen, left in April amid reports of further shake-ups within the ranks.

Interim CEO Peter Tonstad replaced Chen, but then left less than three months later.

“It was a wasted opportunity,” streaming expert Russ Crupnick, told The Wrap, referring to Tidal’s rough start. “I think they had a window in which people were listening but unfortunately that opportunity was squandered.”

Last month, Tidal lost yet another key executive  —  US sales and marketing manager, David Solomon —  who was hired to pump up Tidal’s US presence.

Most recently, the company’s senior vice president of label and artist relations, Zena Burns, quit two months into her tenure. Jeff Geisler, the chief marketing officer for Roc Nation — another one of Jay Z’s companies —  left last month, though it’s not clear whether he worked directly with Tidal.

What could happen if Jay Z leaves

For what it’s worth, Jay Z and his associates have offered no indication that they plan to give up. Last Friday, Tidal neither confirmed, nor denied reports Jay Z was thinking of jumping ship, only responding on Twitter with a loosely quoted Mark Twain reference:

“Lies can spread around the world while the truth is putting on its slippers.”

Madonna, who is a co-owner of Tidal, told the Associated Press last week, “It’s just the beginning, so we’re working out a lot of kinks.”

Jay Z may not leave right now, but one could argue there has been plenty of motivation to bail. Mounting legal troubles are adding to the pressure. Tidal is entangled in a $US50 million lawsuit filed by Cash Money Records over a Lil Wayne mixtape that was streamed exclusively in July. Cash Money claims Tidal’s use of Lil Wayne’s music was “a desperate and illegal attempt to save their struggling streaming service.”

With Apple Music’s relative success, and Spotify still enjoying a huge following, the streaming space could prove to be a tough code for Tidal to crack. And Jay Z’s rumoured departure could strip away some huge name recognition from the app, and possibly cast its future to the wind.

Business Insider has reached out to Tidal for comment. We’ll update this post when we hear back.

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