I have an open relationship with Spotify. Since we've been together, I've had affairs with Apple Music and Tidal. (Both offered free trials; I wasn't losing anything by giving them a whirl.) But neither of them ever did it for me the way Spotify did. I returned to Spotify every time. It met all of my needs and I was a happy subscriber. That was then.
Fast-forward a few months; Tidal was the only place to stream four of the six top albums of the year upon their release, and Apple Music exclusively released the other two. In comparison, with no new Beyonce, Drake, Radiohead or Kanye West albums, I felt like Spotify was giving me chicken feed for $10 a month. (Most of these albums eventually made their way onto Spotify weeks or months after their initial release. Tidal is still the only place to stream Beyonce's Lemonade.)
At one point this year, Spotify was blackballed from some of music's biggest new releases and I found myself temporarily subscribing to Apple Music, Tidal and Spotify -- just to have access to a handful of new albums. However, I am not made of money. After some contemplation, I decided to cancel my premium Spotify subscription and go all in on Tidal. (Cancelling Apple Music after one month was a no brainer. I hate iTunes.) It had been over a year since I was left unimpressed by its buggy mobile app, lack of a desktop app,and vague promises to pay artists more royalties, but its recent string of exclusive 2016-defining albums won me over.
Now that I've been using Tidal consistently for about four months, I'm happy to report that it wins my unofficial award for Most Improved Streaming Music Service. It's still far from perfect, but there are a few unique perks that may make it a better choice over Spotify -- especially if you're a big music fan.
Be the first to buy concert tickets
Rihanna, Beyonce and Kanye West gave Tidal subscribers early access to buy concert tickets for worldwide tours to support their new albums. These pre sales weren't anything special, selection and availability through Ticketmaster was limited to a few sections, however if you've ever experienced the anxiety of the typical 10 a.m. Ticketmaster ticket-scoring frenzy, you know how helpful a chance to buy tickets before the general public can be.
When I took advantage of the Tidal presale for Beyonce's Formation Tour, the tickets available just weren't close enough to the stage to quench my Lemonade thirst. Fatefully, I wandered to the Ticketmaster Official Platinum Seats tab, where I was able to easily add two front row tickets to my cart. These weren't the Tidal tickets, but that pre-sale gave me access to these Platinum Seats. Based on the name and cost per ticket, I assumed the seats were made of platinum (they're not). I squinted in disbelief at the screen; I was one mouse click away from seeing Beyonce front row.
Do you know how difficult it is to buy tickets to the most highly coveted events? Very difficult. And here I was, with the chance of a lifetime. All I had to do was max out my credit card (which I did!). When I think about my decision today, I oscillate between a mix of deep regret and shame (I'm still paying that card off), to unadulterated joy.
Also, it's worth noting that Tidal likes to randomly give away free concert tickets; a few lucky subscribers won free tickets to Rihanna, Beyonce and Coldplay concerts. I however was not one of them.
Timed exclusivity from the most popular artists
Beyonce, Kanye West, Rihanna and Radiohead, some of the biggest names in music, all dropped highly-anticipated new albums this year that exclusively streamed on Tidal upon their release. All, except Beyonce's Lemonade, eventually found their way onto Spotify and Apple Music, however it took weeks, sometimes months -- that's a lifetime if you're a fan who's been waiting years to hear new music from your favorite artist.
Tidal is also one of the only places you can a la carte stream the discography of artists that have a contemptuous relationship with streaming music services, like Prince and Neil Young. Prince's extensive catalog of music, an eclectic body of work that ranges from pop to jazz, has increased in popularity since The Purple One's tragic passing earlier this year. It used to be available on Spotify, but went Tidal exclusive in 2015.
Music videos and concert live streams
There's a heavy video component to Tidal that came to the forefront after the exclusive release of Beyonce's Lemonade. Kanye West's controversial Famous music video was exclusive to Tidal for a week after it premiered in LA -- which Tidal also livestreamed. Recently, Tidal hosted its first boxing match and released an exclusive documentary in honor of the 20th anniversary of Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt album.
As for music videos, I no longer have to jump to YouTube to watch one. The category is built into the desktop and mobile apps, making them as easy to browse as playlists or genres.
Occasionally, Tidal offers free livestreamed concerts. Kanye West, Keith Urban, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato have all had their own exclusive livestreamed concerts and this September three stages at the Made in America festival will be livestreamed in their entirety. These, however, are usually available to subscribers and nonsubscribers.
Music nerd goodies: Lossless audio and liner notes
How else does one stream The Beatles in high-fidelity? Tidal is one of the only services that offers Hi-Fi lossless streaming audio that, when listened to with the right equipment, sounds superior to Spotify. I originally tried out Tidal's basic $10 per month plan and, in comparison to Spotify, I couldn't really tell the difference in sound quality. This time I signed up for Tidal's he more expensive Hi-Fi subscription, and the difference was obvious.
If you have a great pair of headphones or speakers and want to stream high-quality music to them, Tidal is one of your only choices. (There's also Deezer.) Listening to Tidal's lossless audio was like eating a gourmet five layer double chocolate cake, in contrast, Spotify was like having a nice Betty Crocker-style Devil's Food cake . Both were good, however one had a rich nuance that only those with an experienced palate (ears, in this case) would appreciate. Spotify has a setting to increase streaming quality to 320kbit/s, but that's still inferior to lossless.
Also, if you're the type of music nerd who likes to look up who produced a certain record or who played bass on the track you're currently listening to, then get excited. Usually you have to use Google to find these credits, but it's a built-in option in Tidal. It's a specific feature that only satisfies a few, but it's a thoughtful addition for anyone who misses the beauty of informative liner notes.
I love the easiness of streaming music and I don't see my feelings changing any time soon. Being committed to streaming music doesn't necessarily mean subscribing to Spotify, though.
Spotify makes it easier to share music and has a more user-friendly mobile app, but Tidal's exclusives make it feel more like a VIP club. (It makes me recall the days of joining fan clubs for a chance at pre-sale tickets or members-only merch.)
To be sure, Tidal still has a way to go; its desktop app often crashes, $20 per month for lossless audio quality is still rather expensive and its selection of exclusive content isn't every one's cup of tea. In order for Tidal to beat Spotify in the streaming music wars, it might have to join Apple. Rumors about Apple buying Tidal have been swirling around recently and no one's denying how big of a coup it would be for Apple to add big names like Beyonce and Jay Z to their exclusive artist roster.
I'm still undecided if I want to keep Tidal or go back to Spotify, but I know that Tidal has a few unique features that are worth sticking around for. I still have love for Spotify -- sometimes it feels like my Discover Weekly playlist knows me better than I know myself -- but if I'm paying for a music service, I prefer that its catalog include 17 Days.