A couple of months ago, Spotify found itself in a tug-of-war between Joe Rogan and those upset with his comments on vaccination. I’m not going to get into that debate, but it came down to Neil Young and several other artists pulling their work from the platform.
Now, I’ve had Spotify for several years. For me, it was a godsend, a digital platform that put some of the oomph back into the music after two decades of limp MP3s and iTunes. While I considered the iPod at one time to be my most treasured possession, iTunes itself still fell short of the mark for a guy who used to buy 75% of his stuff on vinyl and CD, then put it on specially selected cassettes to preserve the sound.
It let me replace the overpriced SiriusXM and still play random jazz for Uber passengers. It had a few podcasts I liked. But at the same time, I’d put vinyl on, even with the mono speaker, and Spotify just didn’t measure up. It didn’t have the unwanted separation in sound MP3s and iTunes and even some badly mastered CDs had, but it reminded me why vinyl has made a massive comeback. (Sorry, cassette lovers, but the 1990s saw multiple cars eat tape after tape.) Also, I didn’t really care for the mixes it offered up based on my plays. Oh, you listened to Deep Purple? Well, here’s some Saxon. I don’t like Saxon, unless they’re Spinal Tap (who took most of their eighties cues from Saxon.) Did you play Rush? Well, how about Triumph? They’re loud and Canadian. Right?
They’re not bad guesses, but it’s the guesses your aunt who knows nothing about your musical tastes would make.
The other issue came from the artists. Songwriters weren’t getting paid, and the performers had to have tens of thousands of streams in order to make a dollar from a track. Compare to Napster – less than 70 – and Amazon – less than two hundred. Tidal was somewhere in between on that list.
So Neil Young gave me permission to switch to Tidal. If a lot of bands and musicians I loved were ditching Spotify, why should I stay? A coworker suggested it was political, but anyone who knows me knows I disdain the political as largely picking a herd to follow off a cliff. Another rant for another time. I found a service that transfers your playlists from one service to another. It worked beautifully for mine, although several jazz tunes by a couple of artists vanished. Another artist whom I messaged quite a bit on Twitter was actually thrilled I’d be listening to his new releases on Tidal. So was my nephew’s fiancee when I asked her about his band, Northcoast Shakedown. (Now where, oh where, did that name come from?)
I took the HiFi option because I’m cheap. Just not that cheap. Immediately, I heard the difference. The stereo separation, even on my car’s crappy, outdated sound system (No bluetooth, and the aux cable’s woefully underpowered) was crisp. A couple of times I had to poke my head out of the office to see what that noise was only to realize it was something I hadn’t heard via Spotify. It’s not quite vinyl, but nothing is. On the other hand, oh you, who decry the Rice Krispies sound of worn vinyl, you don’t get the snap, crackle, and pop of someone’s ancient copy of Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason. That, by the way, is still the greatest piece of vinyl I’ve ever owned because Gilmour knew how to blend digital originals with analog masters. I compare it to getting cookies from from the oven, where all the sound melts together. There’s a lot of that on Tidal.
I suspect some of Tidal’s underlying technology – the company would have to confirm – is based on Neil Young’s Pono technology, a digital sound platform that eliminated a lot of the data loss associated with MP3’s. It’s why Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” sounds like it’s being played in the other room on iTunes when it sounds like you’re in the garage with Tony Iommi on Apple Music. (Apple bought Pono, so I suspect they glommed it into Apple Music and licensed it elsewhere. I would have.) As I write this, Tidal just threw out “The Turn of a Friendly Card” by the Alan Parsons Project. What isn’t meshing – which isn’t much – instead sounds like the early days of CDs, when the trebles were brighter. But the midrange melts, like the Floyd albums on vinyl from digital masters. What results is absolutely gorgeous to the ears. And I have a mild case of tinnitus. This makes the ringing disappear, or at least fade in and out in sympathy with the music.
The other attraction came from how the artists are treated. Tidal is driven, in part, by the CEO of Rap, Jay-Z. If you’re not impressed by his sound, you have to be impressed by his wife’s, she being Beyonce. But not only is Tidal being artist-owned good for the sound, it’s good for the songwriters. The payments to the artists treat the songwriters more equitably than Spotify or Pandora. A number of artists I’ve known personally over the years, Northcoast Shakedown, Pamela West, Terry Douglas, and this guy who played my prom and hired one kick ass slide guitarist*, get paid better and need fewer streams just to make a dollar. Better sound, better pay. What’s not to love?
And the daily mixes are pretty sweet. With the amount of prog in my curated lists, they threw out some bands I never heard of, like Renaissance. Who’s Renaissance? That’s that other band that spun off from the Yardbirds, the first being the mighty Zeppelin. And unlike Zeppelin, they’re still making music. I now have a crush on lead singer Annie Haslam. Sure, she’s in her 70s now. So’s Helen Mirren, and given a choice between Helen and Megan Fox… Well, Helen is a grown up. I digress.
The point is I hear stuff outside my normal beaten paths. In fact, the paths have weeds grown over them, but there’s a sweet, sweet sound at the end of almost every one.
And I’m paying less for Tidal than I was Spotify.
*OK, the slide guitarist married my ex, who today is my favorite ex. And he is one helluva slide guitarist. I’ve seen him in three bands now.