This month we witnessed the launch of two heavy-hitters: the Apple Watch and Tidal music streaming. Let's examine their effect on the 3D Audio space:
TIDAL: A Luxury Streaming Service
Referred to as "Spotify For The Rich," Tidal has a few secret weapons that, if used correctly, could turn the platform into a powerhouse.
Tidal is a subscription-based music service offering high quality music and sound. This differs from other streaming music providers, like Spotify, that offer both premium and free, ad-based options.
Their hash-tagged slogan reads "Tidal For All," but who exactly is All? In Co-Owner Jay Z's eyes, they are the musicians. "This is a platform that's owned by artists," Jay Z says in a New York Times interview, "We are treating these people that really care about the music with the utmost respect."
Tidal's mission is two-fold: to convince listeners of the importance of sound quality, and to pay artists the fee they deserve for online music streaming.
Randall Roberts of the LA Times describes it perfectly:
"All these music streaming services offer a nearly identical product and seek the same goal: to convince a generation of music fans that has never paid for music and whose ears are used to densely compressed music files that they're insulting both the artist and the art. Tidal's declared aim: to deliver high-quality sound, exclusive music, inventive playlists, and editorial content to music fans.
Such exclusives underscore a more crucial goal: Tidal must convince at least a fraction of the 97% of consumers who don't pay for a streaming service that subscribing to a premium $20-a-month platform (or $10 basic plan) is the ethically responsible thing to do.
Tidal Has Accomplished Half Its Goal
"If the online backlash is to be believed, somebody's doing it wrong — but not the fans. A Twitter user who goes by @spursfan1975 captured the essence of the fan response: "Tidal — a business venture to help rich musicians get even richer. Cue a rise in music piracy instead!!!" By the weekend, the backlash was represented by the trending #TidalforNoOne hashtag. Next time Jay Z, Arcade Fire's Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, and Jason Aldean pitch something for the good of starving artists, they probably shouldn't do it while in a mansion holding Champagne flutes and toasting their gold-leafed good fortune."
I think Tidal succeeds in presenting a higher quality music lifestyle. Their site and promotional material successfully break down the shortcomings of currently popular music streaming platforms and present a convincing argument about the virtues of high quality.
The difference is noticeable -- even to those without a background in sound engineering -- and it's very exciting to see a streaming service that makes high quality audio standard.
At the same time, Tidal is creating a niche luxury market for itself. Wealthy consumers who generally don't care about sound quality are purchasing Tidal subscriptions because it's posh and a symbol of status.
Where tidal will succeed is in its exclusivity, its add-ons and non-music products allowed only to subscribers
As Micah Singleton from The Verge writes: "Tidal's secret weapon isn't celebrities: It's Live Nation"
"Though its name has been nowhere around the proceedings of Tidal, Live Nation could be involved. Jay Z has deep ties within the company (Live Nation signed Jay Z to a $152 million contract and funded Roc Nation back in 2008), and he’s not the only one. Nearly every artist that owns equity in Tidal has a working relationship with Live Nation (the exception is Daft Punk, who rarely tour). Madonna signed a 10-year, $120 million contract with the company in 2007; Arcade Fire, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Usher’s last tours were promoted by the company; Nicki Minaj and Jason Aldean’s current tours are as well.
Live Nation is the largest concert promoter in the world and the way most of the artists working with Tidal make their money. While music sales may be in trouble, touring is still a lucrative endeavor, and it's one that Live Nation — which owns or operates 158 venues in six countries, produces over 60 music festivals per year, and owns Ticketmaster — is deeply involved in. If Tidal has any aspirations to offer tickets through its service, Live Nation would have to be involved."
With Coachella currently underway I can't help but think of all the old school Coachella advocates who are desperately hoping Daft Punk will return and headline the now corporately controlled festival.
What if Daft Punk's return to Coachella was only available for pre-order to Tidal subscribers?
What if Tidal subscribers had exclusive access to live stream a concert from multiple vantage points in 3D Audio?
Exclusivity is what could make Tidal succeed. It will never help the small artist in Milwaukee get big, or pay the touring indie rock group enough to make ends meet, but it can bring awareness to sound quality.
Jay Z figured with his slogan "Tidal For All" that "All of Us" would want it. Turns out only a select privileged few do.
Doesn't sound at all like every other music streaming site...
Apple Watch: the dawn of a new era Again
There will be users, fanboys, early adopters, haters, and the biased opinion of the world wide web. Apple has announced the release of the Watch. The Watch is here to stay. Here is why and what it means for binaural audio.
1) Repeating Histories
The mantra at Apple has always been: What will we be doing five, ten years from now? Not How can we gain market share for next quarter?, but What can we learn from our past mistakes?, How can we control the message?, How can we mitigate risk against our competitors?, How can we beat ourselves at our own game?
The Watch (previously, iTime) has been pitched, discussed, and floated for the past three years. Competitors have rushed to market feature-ladened imitators, designed not with the future in mind, but with what Apple will do.
Anything they can do, Apple will do better. If it's not "perfect" the first time, they'll get damn close by the second or third pass. Their product roadmap relies on the certainty of the future and how they envision it. The first iPhone was essentially just a phone with certain features. By the third generation, a whole new app economy had evolved through games and photo sharing. The iCloud had taken over just in time for the iPhone 5, where enterprise applications and BYOD had swept fortune 500 workforces across the globe.
Today we all hold a mini-computer in our pockets. Something Apple knew from day one. It just took a little time for us to catch-up. How about sticking that same computer on our wrist?
2) Socioeconomic Agnosticism
Apple products rarely break. They fulfill the promise years after purchase and as a result, the used market is a buoyant one. Anyone with $100 can own an Apple product. Great industrial design has created a hand-me-down economy of purely Apple devices.
The small fact that Apple is not "turning-off" it's shopping cart is a testament to this. The demand is there. The delivery dates will push out depending on manufacturing. When you have a brand this strong, with limited downside, why take the dollars tomorrow when you can bring them in today?
3) Fashion & Growth
Apple never set out to be a fashion brand, yet with it's logo everywhere and its shapes in everyone's pockets, it can be difficult not to imagine it as one. If a brand is successful in becoming a fashion accessory, the size of addressable market grows exponentially. This includes your retail footprint and margins (the cost of a watch band is in the low pennies).
We're still negotiating the etiquette of technology in our lives. Is it rude to text at the dinner table? Is a funeral selfie too much? What about checking the time on your watch? Aha!
4) Prior Impossibilities
The fact that technology has creeped its way onto our bedside tables and now onto our wrists is a testament to the teams at Apple HQ. What's even better are the new economies, platforms, and technologies previously deemed impossible that users now have access to.
Binaural recording for all would have been impossible without the smartphone. (Thank you, iPhone.)
Binaural recording for all would have been impossible without the economies of scale of making bluetooth hardware today. (Thank you, iPad.)
Binaural recording for all would have been impossible without headphones becoming both ubiquitous and fashionable. (Thank you, Beats [now owned by Apple].)
Imagine now, Binaural recording for all, paired with a wrist accessory.
From One Ear To Another,