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What Apple Music can learn from Tidal

Commentary: The streaming music service co-owned by Jay Z, Beyonce and Kanye West can teach Apple a thing or two about thinking outside of the box.

Stars including Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5 and Kanye West called for a fairer deal at the launch of Jay Z's Tidal streaming service.
Kevin Mazur/Getty

Nobody wants to buy music anymore. That's why the streaming music scene is such a big battlefield right now.

What does a streaming music service have to do to stick out? The same thing that Netflix, HBO, Hulu and Amazon do in video realm: focus on producing must-have content that you can't get anywhere else. Apple Music and Tidal are trying similar approaches, exclusively releasing records by some of the most popular musicians in the business.

Somehow Tidal, the Jay Z-owned underdog with 3 million subscribers, has done a far better job at manufacturing a spectacle around the latest records from its coup of superstar co-owners, but it hasn't exactly come out a winner.

After accidentally leaking it the night before its release, Tidal stated it would be the only place to stream and download Rihanna's new album, "Anti," but it was made available on Apple Music the next day and Spotify weeks later. Similarly, Beyonce's magnum opus, "Lemonade," was supposed to be exclusively on Tidal after it premiered on HBO, but it was made available on iTunes, Amazon and Pandora days after its release, too.


You need Apple Music or Tidal to stream Beyonce's "Lemonade."

Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

In probably the strangest album roll out of his career, Kanye West debuted his highly-anticipated, often renamed project, "The Life of Pablo," in a Tidal livestream (also shown in theaters worldwide) that doubled as a New York Fashion Week show for West's clothing line.

After the premier, West, like he often does, took to Twitter and said that the album would only be available to stream on Tidal and "never" on Apple Music. A not-quite-finished-yet version was exclusively on Tidal for about a month, while Kanye tweaked individual tracks to his liking. Meanwhile, it quickly became one of the most pirated records in recent history. And now, you can find the finished product on Apple Music and Spotify.

The ploys have successfully reeled in new customers, but Tidal's lackadaisical approach to the definition of exclusive looks embarrassingly weak in comparison to Apple. Good luck trying to find Taylor Swift, Drake or Adele's latest albums on Spotify. You won't. All were deemed Apple Music exclusives before launch and so far, an Apple Music exclusive means exactly that -- you can only stream it on Apple Music. (You can buy the tracks and albums on Amazon, but they're not included in Amazon's all-you-can-stream Prime Music service.)


Rappers Kanye West and Jay Z, along with a slew of other superstars, co-own Tidal.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Roc Nation

However, those albums are simply albums. Tidal, on the other hand, is serving up experiences. It's thinking outside of the box by producing and hosting live concerts, concept albums, surprise releases with free downloads, fashion shows and TV shows. Unfortunately, they're also serving them with an equal portion of disappointment.

In a crowded market, Tidal might have no choice but to go big or go home. If you're not hip to the rest of the options out there, let me tell you, there are a lot. Streaming radio, like Pandora, and Spotify's freemium a la carte service are very popular options due to their being available for free. However, there are people (like me) who are willing to pay $10 a month for an ad-free streaming music subscription (streaming helped music industry revenue increase in 2015, finally reversing the 15-year decline of the post-CD era).

Apple is one of the biggest players in the digital music industry, thanks to 15-year old iTunes helping the company's natural transition to streaming music flourish into a success. Tidal is like a hot startup with great ideas but poor execution.

In order to lure 30 million people away from their paid Spotify subscriptions, Apple Music should steal a page out of Tidal's playbook: give subscribers more unique content that's innovative, thoughtful and takes advantage of the multimedia platform. One Taylor Swift concert and poorly rehashed Facebook artists' profiles aren't enough.

If Apple thinks big like Tidal, it could turn Apple Music into the digital music tsunami it's already positioned itself to be.