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Alex Villa
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What's the best music streaming service as of 2020?

December 06, 2020

Spotify vs. Tidal - Who wins the streaming music service race?

It's that time of the year again. Spotify gifted its users once more with an even fancier 2020 Wrapped experience, and our digital communities where flooded by colorful images of favorite artists in different flavors and shapes.

This got me thinking for a moment. Is Spotify it for me? Is it the over-ruling winner of the streaming universe? If so...why?

In a moment of curiosity for Tidal's appeal, I "accidentally" bought a monthly Master subscription. "Accidentally", in quotes, meaning that the UX for the Tidal registration form omitted to remind me that I had already used my free trial almost 5 years ago, I fell for the trick of the form asking for my card data and...there it was, I had payed for a monthly subscription of Tidal.

This obviously affected my initial impression. The reason why I was looking for a trial version was because I've been trying to answer the question on whether or not some people choose it over Spotify, which for a vast majority of the Western world, seems to be the one and only choice. Their inclusive, regionalized pricing that sets a precedent on parity purchasing power makes them the bigger contender in the market.

A monthly subscription for Spotify in Mexico will take \$115 Mexican Pesos (or 4.7 EUR as in December 2020) from your card every month, while the same service in Germany will take more than double (9.90 EUR). It makes sense. Salaries are different. Prices of digital services should absolutely be localized.

Shout out to my wonder-wife, who self-published a book and like the good nerd she is, scraped the Spotify website to use the same multipliers for the price of her book.

On the other hand, Tidal doesn't localize prices. Its offer is simple: the chance to get higher quality, with an alternative entry-level, non-HiFi option. The interesting part is that the HiFi option is 19,99 USD, no matter where you are in the world.

The user experience of Tidal has way too many flaws. From the lack of disclosure of the trial month having already been used, to issues when registering with oAuth services like Twitter and trying to login in the Desktop app, on top of problematic notification issues when designing your password. The experience is harder to navigate than it should be.

However, after 25 minutes of set up, that included importing my favorite Spotify playlists, I opened up my favorite complex tracks of 2020 in both Tidal and Spotify, using my Bose Quiet Comfort II via Bluetooth (too late to try anything else).

On a first listen of the wonderful Mind Against remix of Dominik Euberg's "Golden Acht", the clarity that Tidal offers becomes obvious in the first 7 seconds. Spotify, at the same volume, on the same track, offers a version which requires more volume to achieve the same intensity, that never ends up hitting the same depth of field and comes off as muffled.

I found some real sugar on Tidal with classic techno tracks like Slam's Make You Move, or modern hip-hop/dub tracks like "feel away", the collaboration between James Blake, slowthai and Mount Kimbie.

While looking for tracks that derive sheer happiness for me, I ended up looking for Digitalism, to find the amazing surprise that Tidal's search include's the possibility of looking for tracks where the keyboard you're looking for appears credited as a artist, songwriter, engineer, producing team or performer. This level of specificity marks a different type of inclusion, where the care is put into the discoverability of the content in a less commercial manner.

It's still frustrating to not be able to edit the imagery of your playlists in Tidal, probably a consequence from overall the experience being completely non-social. Playlists can't even

This is not to say that Spotify, with all of its inclusion work is completely flawless on its UX. Finding that you've suddenly become a number-only username is one of the most frustrating, older user rites of passages.

There's a hack to edit your username if you go to your profile on your mobile phone, but I highly doubt that the fact that this is the only way to do it is intentional. This feels like a bug that's filed in the UX-improvement backlog.

This actually makes sense when noticing that Spotify puts a big bet on providing an all-around-social experience, I believe that the product efforts of a good part of the year are aimed towards their big banger: Spotify Wrapped. That time of the year where we all take a moment to share what we have heard. This probably creates an unsommonable amount of social share. They get it right by providing a way to make every personal fact that signifies a personal storytelling for their users as a well-designed image that can be shared in trendy Instagram stories or #music channels in our workplaces.

Tidal cares about the music-heads out there that have disposable income to invest on vinyl and high quality music equipment (Sonos being one of their main partners).

The reality is: even when using headphones connected via Bluetooth, which is a technology well known for cutting down technical possibilities in the name of convenience, the depth of field that Tidal offers is immediately obvious.

But is it social enough to grab our attention? How will we virtue signal the way in which the music we listen to makes up for the perfect companion of our personal storytelling if we don't have a convenient, shiny image to share easily?

I'd share that this convenience can be sacrificed, if the budget allows for it, in the name of fidelity. Both, sound fidelity with the audio quality, social fidelity with the results aimed at roles that include important things that are not considered by Spotify, while giving it a feel of exclusivity.

TLDR, Tidal is a product that has a lot of places to grow into when it comes to user experience and inclusion, but it offers an unique level of specialized quality, which will be used by those who have the chance to spare 20 USD a month without blinking twice about it.

On the other hand, Spotify represents the popular, democratically available option. The top tier quality doesn't compare to Tidal's offerings on masters, however, people from different corners of the world can actually have a chance to pay for a monthly subscription without making a sacrifice.

Each platform seems to know their market well.

The big plot twist of this story is that, while these two platforms, along with Apple Music, take the biggest share of the market on music consumption in our generation, there are other competitors which offer different advantages.

As a Berlin resident, I have a soft spot for SoundCloud, the favorite platform of techno and house producers, the place where you don't find songs: you find tracks, and the sweetest spots are found in minute 37 in the high-fidelity set recording of an underground melodic techno DJ that's improvising while playing for and with a live audience immersed in the lyric-less experience.

The above mentioned platforms are a bridge towards an end. They are platforms that above all, should be optimized for discovery, as they're the modern-day equivalent of radio. We spend our day to day listen to their lists.

But is the monthly fee we may decide to pay for them actually all that the music industry needs to survive? No, it isn't.

The best way to support bands in the last decades, since the music industry is a thing, is without a doubt, paying for a live-concert ticket.

But hey, this is 2020! I'm worried about my favorite underground bands surviving, aren't you? I'm worried about thriving new artists that I would have fallen in love at smaller stages at festivals or as openers for my music darlings not being able to have a career in music.

A lot of bands are on Patron, a platform that allows for either one-time or monthly donations. Others have their CDs on band-camp, the most fair way to digitally trade music. We can purchase their physical CDs and vinyls on their websites or Amazon, and most bands offer a variety of merchandise on their websites.

We owe it to these artists that hold our hands through our days to contribute back to them in socially responsible ways, it ultimately doesn't matter what streaming platform we choose: it's not enough. It is a personal implementation detail, and ultimately, as convenient as it is to pay a single membership, finding ways to contribute directly to the artists you like and support can truly make a difference.

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