And honestly, they did. The album that got me hooked was Automatic for the People
, a longtime favorite of mine. Listening to the atmosphere in “Drive
,” the first track of the R.E.M. album, just felt like a significantly more open experience on my nice headphones than I could muster on Apple Music. It’s a good song to understand the “space” your music takes up because it’s not a “full” song, jamming every bit of space with noise.
Problem is, there are only so many of those users. The “Pono
class” of music fans, the ones who care about fidelity in music quality, is a fairly small audience. (Pono rips aside, Neil Young figured this out, and now makes bank
by catering specifically to them.) And even in my case, I’m only slightly more of music quality nerd than the average person is.
The thing is, as well, music has always been a young people’s game. Recently, YouTube-famous music producer and instructor Rick Beato has been taking a listen to the most popular songs on Spotify
, and those songs aren’t like the kinds of things that a music fan who cares about “master-quality” recordings would really care about. By putting a focus on quality over every other metric, Tidal ultimately relegates itself to a niche.
The problem I found with Tidal, as a listener, was that the curation didn’t seem to match the message that its high-res music did. It felt like, even though the pitch was high-quality music, it was selling me the same kinds of modern tracks that would appear on Spotify, which was both cheaper and more technically impressive. (Case in point on that latter issue: Try installing Tidal on Linux
; see how easy it is. I promise you, it is not easy.)
I think that one way Tidal could have found its lane is by leaning even harder into that music nerd niche. A competitor of Tidal’s that I’ve been checking out lately, Qobuz
, offers a great example of what this might look like. Compare the explore page of Tidal to that of Qobuz: