I’ll fess up to it, I’m something of a Tidal junkie. During the last six months, I’ve added ten albums via Tidal to every one CD I’ve added to my NAS drive’s library. Slowly, surely, I’ve developed my own, unique, library of music on Tidal that I don’t have exactly duplicated anywhere else. In some cases, my fave tracks and albums have an [E] which stands for “Explicit,” which means with many of these tracks Tidal is the only place to hear the version with all the words intact. A good example of this would be “Feels Great” by the Cheatcodes. The un-MF’d version doesn’t sound right. Another example would be Bleachers Terrible Thrills Vol 2 which I’ve only been able to find on Tidal. But why should I worry? No way Tidal is ever going to go away…but then there is the story of Music Giant.
In short Music Giant was a system whereby you would buy a hard drive system that was already loaded with music, which then you could unlock by buying the titles, at which point you had access to them. In the days of slow internet this was a very viable idea, and it looked like Music Giant was going to be the next big thing, but then they ran out of money before achieving a positive cash flow and eventually, the money spigot stopped flowing and Music Giant died a quiet, but painful for early adopters, death. If you do a search on the Internet for information about Music Giant you will find nothing – it’s as if it never existed…
Which brings us to Tidal. At various times, I’ve seen rumors that Tidal was on its last legs and in need of new ownership with deep pockets. Not being privy to Tidal’s current financials I can’t venture an opinion on the veracity of these claims. But, given the volatility of the streaming marketplace, anything can and probably will happen before there is some standardization and consolidation of the streaming landscape. Will Apple Music or Spotify end up as the last streaming source standing (and actually make some serious money)? My Crystal ball isn’t clear enough to see that far into the future.
Last night I had the kind of experience that sends audiophiles running to their physical or downloaded libraries – Tidal was acting flaky on multiple systems. On my phone via both Wi-Fi and cell carrier Tidal kept stopping mid-song, and only starting if play was pushed again. It was irritating. On another system which was hardwired to my Ethernet FIOS, Tidal stuttered, making that source unplayable. This morning everything seemed OK again, but not being able to play what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted was frustrating, and did not inspire additional confidence on my part of the stability and long-term efficacy of having my music library “In the cloud.”
After the last paragraph, all the physical copy absolutists are smiling that “I told you so” smile. Ownership is so much better than loanership. But remember, you don’t own the music any more than Mr. Streamer Stone does. You own a physical media that contains music that belongs to someone else. In terms of ownership LPs confer no additional rights or privileges over a stream. The difference is one of media and medium, not property rights. But one area where physical media does offer an advantage – control. With physical media (or downloaded files) the end-user has far more command over the playback process. As long as you have a source of electricity, you can play anything in your library successfully without worrying about outside influences effecting your playback (as long as you don’t consider the quality of your incoming AC power).
For active mobile music fans cloud-based streaming music is, obviously, the wave of the NOW and most likely the way of the future, but I’m glad I still had the opportunity to acquire a physical library of recorded music. If I was my 11-year old self in 2017 I probably wouldn’t even think about assembling a physical library. But when I go to play a song via a stream, and it’s not there or it can’t be played without an issue, I’m glad that I have physical media alternatives that do not rely as heavily on the outside world to make them work.