How Ap­ple tipped the scales in the bat­tle of mu­sic streaming ser­vices

It’s all about the num­bers.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

At 5:30 pm EDT on Satur­day, June 16, the Tidal high-fidelity mu­sic streaming ser­vice was sud­denly the cen­ter of at­ten­tion. Just weeks af­ter Kanye West dropped his Ye album on all streaming ser­vices—un­der­scor­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of his once-ex­clu­sive con­tract with Tidal— Jay-z and Bey­oncé shocked the world with a sur­prise col­lab­o­ra­tive record ti­tled

Ev­ery­thing Is Love. And the only place you could get it was Tidal.

Some­what sur­pris­ingly, that ex­clu­siv­ity didn’t last very long. While other high­pro­file al­bums have en­joyed Tidal ex­clu­siv­ity for weeks or, in the case of Bey­oncé’s Lemon­ade, years, Ev­ery­thing Is Love had a stint that lasted about 36 hours. By the time peo­ple were look­ing for some mu­sic to play on their Mon­day morn­ing com­mute, Bey­oncé and Jay-z’s new record was avail­able for streaming on

While other high-pro­file al­bums have en­joyed Tidal ex­clu­siv­ity for weeks or, in the case of Bey­oncé’s Lemon­ade, years, Ev­ery­thing is Love had a stint that lasted about 36 hours.

Ap­ple Mu­sic ( go.mac­ and Spo­tify Pre­mium ( go.mac­; avail­able for free on Spo­tify on July 2) and the only thing ex­clu­sive to Tidal was an out­take track.

And that’s prob­a­bly the last bit of noise you’ll hear from Tidal. There was a time when a new album by Jay-z or Bey­oncé (let alone both) would cause the mu­sic ser­vice’s sign-up to swell, but af­ter re­ports of missed pay­ments, high debt, and can­celed con­tracts, Tidal is so un­der­wa­ter, even an album from two of the big­gest artists in rap and R&B can’t save it.


Had Ap­ple Mu­sic never launched, Jay-z’s Tidal might have had a shot. When it launched back in 2015, Spo­tify was its only real com­peti­tor. With a star-stud­ded debut fea­tur­ing West, Daft Punk, Madonna, Ali­cia Keys, and, of course, Bey­oncé, the mes­sage was that Tidal was “putting art back into the fore­front.” The artist-driven ser­vice was sup­posed to shake up the streaming mu­sic in­dus­try by of­fer­ing tracks, sound qual­ity, and playlists you couldn’t find any­where else.

The cost of all that ex­clu­siv­ity wasn’t free, of course. Tidal es­chewed the freemium model for a pair of pay­ment tiers— $10 a month for stan­dard streaming and $20 a month for high-fidelity streaming—and tar­geted Spo­tify with a war over mu­sic rather than price. Tidal was sell­ing it­self as an al­ter­na­tive to Spo­tify for peo­ple who cared about things like roy­al­ties and kbps. Without Ap­ple, Tidal and Spo­tify could have co-ex­isted, but as the say­ing goes, two’s com­pany, three’s a crowd.

Ap­ple Mu­sic ba­si­cally blew up the streaming mu­sic fight. While it didn’t nec­es­sar­ily bring any­thing new to the ta­ble, its deep in­te­gra­tion with IOS and the iphone, as well as its deep cat­a­logue of

mu­sic and icloud stor­age, is a for­mi­da­ble knock­out punch that Tidal sim­ply can’t counter, even with a sta­ble of top artists and ex­clu­sives. Just like it did with the itunes Mu­sic Store, Ap­ple com­pletely changed the game with Ap­ple Mu­sic with a sim­ple mantra: lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion.


Even be­fore it had its own streaming mu­sic ser­vice, Ap­ple held tremen­dous in­flu­ence over the dig­i­tal mu­sic in­dus­try. Just a year and a half be­fore Ap­ple Mu­sic launched, Bey­oncé had turned to Ap­ple’s itunes as the ex­clu­sive launch­ing pad for her fifth stu­dio album, tal­ly­ing more than 617,000 sales in the U.S. dur­ing its first three days. And Adele’s 25, which was down­load-only for the first seven months of its avail­abil­ity, topped 900,000 itunes sales in a sin­gle day.

Artists need the kind of ex­po­sure that Ap­ple gives them. Spo­tify may tech­ni­cally be the big­gest ser­vice, with 70 mil­lion sub­scribers to Ap­ple Mu­sic’s 40 mil­lion, but Spo­tify doesn’t come pre-in­stalled on 60 mil­lion de­vices ev­ery quar­ter. But even if Ap­ple Mu­sic was only avail­able as a down­load from the App Store, Tidal prob­a­bly wouldn’t have stood a chance. Ap­ple and mu­sic are in­ex­orably linked thanks to the ipod. Heck, you can even see that play out on An­droid, where Ap­ple Mu­sic has twice as many down­loads as Tidal.

But make no mis­take, it’s on IOS where the lion’s share of Ap­ple Mu­sic’s users live. That’s be­cause ev­ery sin­gle iphone user sees the mu­sic note icon ev­ery day, and for mil­lions of them, the con­ve­nience and ease of use is too good to pass up. Spo­tify users may be will­ing to jump from ser­vice to ser­vice to get ac­cess to the hottest ex­clu­sive tracks, but Ap­ple Mu­sic sub­scribers are stay­ing put.

Much like the itunes and ipad combo, the iphone is a tremen­dous driver of Ap­ple Mu­sic sales.


The re­lease of Ev­ery­thing Is Love proves two things: Tidal won’t be around for much longer and the ex­clu­sive streaming game is all but over, mainly be­cause Ap­ple stopped play­ing it. While the streaming wars are far from over, the days of ser­vices lur­ing sub­scribers with ex­clu­sive Bey­oncé, Tay­lor Swift, or Frank Ocean tracks are done. And that was pretty much Tidal’s only play.

Like Tidal, Ap­ple Mu­sic doesn’t have a free tier. In­stead, it of­fers a gen­er­ous three-month trial pe­riod, dur­ing which it still pays artists for the songs that are streamed. Tidal’s roy­alty rates are more gen­er­ous, but the scale is what’s im­por­tant. Even if you rely on Tidal’s sup­pos­edly in­flated num­bers ( go.mac­ innm), Ap­ple has more users try­ing out its ser­vice at any given moment than Tidal has ac­tual sub­scribers. The only thing artists are re­ally get­ting with Tidal is ob­scu­rity.

As Bey­oncé raps on the new track “Nice,” if she cared about streaming num­bers, she would have “put Lemon­ade up on Spo­tify.” But what might be more telling is the word she rhymes Spo­tify with: demise. Bey­oncé may be able to sur­vive ex­clu­siv­ity on a sin­gle mu­sic ser­vice, but most artists aren’t. Ap­ple Mu­sic isn’t just an­other sub­scrip­tion mu­sic ser­vice, it’s the most vis­i­ble one and the only one that works with Siri and the Homepod, and comes pre-in­stalled on ev­ery iphone. And for most mu­sic lovers and mak­ers, that’s just too good to pass up. ■

Ap­ple Mu­sic isn’t just an­other mu­sic ser­vice—it’s the de­fault ser­vice on hun­dreds of mil­lions of iphones.

Spo­tify’s free tier means more than an ex­clu­sive Tay­lor Swift record.

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