Tidal: Wave goodbye to Spotify?

Kanye West. Jay Z. Beyonce. Nicki Minaj. Rihanna. Those names alone might sound like a festival’s list of dream acts for their line up. If you tuned into the Tidal Conference on Monday night though it all seemed like an illuminati meeting more than anything, hell, there was even a moment where each artist signed a piece of paper to show their dedication, albeit with ink and not their blood.

tidal-press-conference

Let’s clear up something first: what is Tidal? Tidal is a music streaming service, similar to the likes of Spotify and Deezer, which is owned by hip-hop giant Jay Z who purchased the company for $56 million dollars. The service isn’t the first of its kind though Tidal claims that it’s unique for two reasons.

Firstly it’s owned by the artists. This actually makes sense I suppose, Spotify has been under extreme scrutiny for paying artists a measly amount of money compared to how often their music is streamed. Incase you didn’t know, Spotify claims to have paid over $1 billion since its launch in 2008, at $0.007 a play. So a song would have to be played around 100 times to reach the iTunes retail price of a song. Artists haven’t taken kindly to this, all you have to do is look at pop queen Taylor Swift who controversially pulled her entire music library off the music streaming service last year following the release of her critically acclaim 1989. On its first week alone, the album sold 1 million copies and has became one of the best selling albums of the last year, selling more than 4 million copies since it’s release last October.

Secondly it provides lossless music quality at 1411kbps compared to Spotify’s 320kbps, something that Tidal has been bragging about to try and stand out from the crowd. The only fault with this is you’ll literally not know the difference between the two. There’s a sound test on their site and I tried it out and I can’t for the life of me point out anything significantly different, not enough to make me pay £20 a month for. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention one of the major criticisms of Tidal. Actually there’s a few reason why Tidal isn’t as perfect as it seems.

First of all Tidal costs £20 a month for “lossless quality”, £10 if you just want standard. There’s no ad sponsored free tier, something that has riled some folk as Spotify has this option which may account for it’s large membership. Secondly, like I stated before, the lossless quality will not be noticed by the average music listener. You’ll need other music programs and peripherals like expensive headphones to notice this. I’m not saying there isn’t people who won’t enjoy the higher quality but the fact is you’re going to be spending more money than you’d think. On top of that if you’re out and about you can think again about using Tidal. An average lossless quality album stream will come up to around 400mb so if you’re on a contract that only allows 5GB, you’ll be struggling to play 10 whole albums a month on the go and that’s assuming there the usual 12 track length.

waveform_popeye

The real problem with Tidal is that it claims to be something that will change the face of music, so much so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the conference was to announce the second coming of Jesus Christ. At the end of the day,if this group of musicians with a combined wealth of $2.7 billion really cared about the quality of music, they wouldn’t be investing in “lossless” quality streaming which, by the way, would be CD quality. Instead, they would release their catalogues on analogue via vinyl. I was disappointed to see Jack White, someone who is very enthusiastic about records, associating himself with Tidal as I was to see some of my other favourite acts signing up for nothing but more money.

And that’s the real problem. As much as these artists will deny it, Tidal is just to make the millionaires richer at the expense of isolating music fans who can’t afford it. A sad week for music.

The Revival of Vinyl

Just like the weather, music is unpredictable by nature. If it were to abide by a set of rules then many of the greatest artists the world has ever known wouldn’t be around as every song would be a bland rehash of another. The same can be said in the way that music is produced. During most of the 20th century Vinyl was the default format and it seemed like nothing could stop it but that wasn’t the case.

images (9)

Music veteran and record store-owner Sandy McLean explained this. “The creation of the CD definitely chipped away at vinyl’s success over time, becoming the new go to format while vinyl became second best. Arguably the final nail in the coffin for us was iTunes. At first it seemed over ambitious to think you could get an album without leaving the house but when it became reality, well that was when we got hit hard”.

The death of the record looked inevitable, sinking to as low as 0.5 million copies annually (Nielsen Soundscan). Recently though, the vinyl has experienced a resurrection that has surprised many. McLean explained that it comes down to various factors. “Vinyl is in the right place at the right time. People have become dissatisfied with digital downloads because even though they are portable, it doesn’t have the same satisfaction as going out, buying a physical copy and starting a collection.” Charlie Ward, 18, from Cambridge said “Records can transport you back to different eras as you’re hearing 100% of the original recording, nothing can beat the crackle of a vinyl, something that digital downloads can’t compare to”. In addition to this, 21 year-old Brendan Yorke stated that he prefers vinyl due to how unreliable downloads are.

Unsurprisingly record stores have benefitted greatly from this revival. From 2009 to 2013 there has been a 9% increase in the amount of record stores in Britain which has allowed for events like Record Store Day blossom into a special yearly event for music lovers. McLean spoke fondly about the event, emphasising that “RSD was a major success this year and it’s no surprise to see why people love it. Not only do you get special releases but you also get to communicate with other people who are passionate about vinyl and music, making the whole process of buying a record that bit more social-able and fun.” Marc Gouk, 19 from Glasgow, criticised the event though, stating that the event was ruined by touts reselling vinyl that were in limited stock for nearly 4 times their original price. McLean addressed the problem though, saying that “the trade association that we work with Entertainment Retailers Association found that only 5% of the items bought on RSD were then resold on auction sites so it was a very small percentage.” He went on to say that “it’s a part of human nature, as long as there are tickets for gigs and vinyl then there will be touts trying to make a profit”.

It’s not been all rosy for vinyl though. Regardless of the fact that 844,122 records have been sold in 2014 alone, critics like 24 year old Brodie McCulloch of Ayr say that this revival will be shortlived as “it is a fad just like pet rocks were back in the 70’s”. As well as this, others like Effy Brown of Glasgow say that it is unfair that “genres like indie rock are benefiting from this revival more than others”. McLean was quick to defend vinyl and address these problems. “In regards to people that say this revival is a fad, I think it’s incredibly naïve to assume that. Vinyl has been around for more than 70 years now and even though the popularity has dipped especially in the 90s, people are now beginning to show their dissatisfaction with other formats and have realised the benefits of records”. Talking about certain genres benefiting more than others, he pointed out that indie rock dominates the sales with artists like Arctic Monkeys and The Smiths but that isn’t such a bad thing. “It draws people into what is for most young people an unfamiliar phenomenon and having artists they recognise like the big rock bands of today and yesteryear means they can slowly ease their way into it all. Lots of genres and sub-genres have enjoyed success in this revival and it’ll only continue as the years go by”.

33_Umin

It doesn’t matter what way you look at it, the popularity of vinyl at the moment is undeniable. By the end of this year sales are expected to surpass 1 million and big stores like Urban Outfitters and HMV are hopping onto the record scene. In what is predominantly an unpredictable sector of entertainment, music will now have to welcome back an old favourite. It may not have learned any new tricks but the sound still packs a bite.

Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love review

Paolo Nutini is a hard one to pigeon hole. While most artists find a sound that serves them well and stick to it for album after album, the Paisley born singer song-writer continues to delve into different genres in each of his album releases with his debut These Streets containing a nice blend of Pop and Rock whilst his follow up Sunny Side Up expertly blended R&B and Ska like a Kenwood smoothie maker. After a five year hiatus though, has he managed to keep this trend and quality up?Image

The answer? Of course he has. All you have to do is listen to Iron Sky, one of the album’s finest tracks which is a beautiful blend of both soul and raw compassion that highlights Nutini’s trademark raspy voice that never ceases to amaze you throughout the album’s 13 track duration. Opening track Scream (Funk My Life Up) is an upbeat, funk infused song reminiscent of the sound of James Brown whilst Numpty mixes it up with a more frisky sound and a chorus that’ll inscribe itself into your head after a few listens.

However, where Caustic Love really shines is when Nutini infuses this amazing soul sounds with personal lyrics which he delivers in an apologetic sound. Point in case? The track One Day, which follows up the interlude every RnB album needs, has Paolo saying all the corners of our pictures are a long time afraid, they still symbolize what you mean to me”, showcasing his ability to tap into the deep emotional reserves that allow this track to stand out. The closing track Someone Like You is another example of these lyrics with a much simpler sound which makes for a peaceful and nonchalant conclusion.Image

Some may lump Nutini unknowingly alongside other artists like James Blunt and James Morrison just because he plays guitar and sings. With Caustic Love, Nutini showcases talent that is unparalleled to any other solo artist in Britain today and one that’s bound to develop and improve after each successive record. So sit back, put your earphones on and enjoy the soulful sound that’ll transport you to the 80’s, no DeLorean needed.

Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

Image

It’s odd to think that five years ago “I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose” was released and made music lovers aware of four boys who were not just an alternative to the Arctic Monkeys who dominated the indie rock scene at the time but were an act that had a lot of potential to make it big in the genre. With the help of “So Long, See You Tomorrow”, the band have not only utilised their potential but have made the transition from polite and shy newcomers to a band that radiating with confidence and stylish flare.

 

Bombay Bicycle Club are not a band that sticks to the one sound (their back catalogue consists of blues, folk and pop) so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this album isn’t an exception to this trend. Home By Now is an RnB infused track with a layer of extravagant vocals from lead singer Jack Steadman, who’s travels abroad have been a factor in helping the band to find a sound that is worth sticking to, and provides a stellar vocal performance throughout this record.If you think that RnB is an odd sound for BBC to be sampling then just wait around for a few tracks and you’ll come across Feel, a track that’s intro wouldn’t go amiss in a Bollywood film, that sounds as strange as it does brilliant.

 

Despite all the new tweaks to their ever changing music formula, BBC have more success with tracks that have a subtle pop sound to them. Take for example the first single off the album Carry Me that features a massive sing-along chorus that will be sure to make an appearance during the band’s upcoming tour and any upcoming that the band, hopefully, will be attending. Luna also shares these same traits, propelled by female vocals and a relaxed beat that help to make it one of the best tracks on offer.


Whilst we all wait apprehensively for Steadman to don a quiff and leather jacket (we’ve all seen what confidence can do to a frontman), fans of the band can relax knowing that the boys have cemented themselves as one of the best in the current wave of British indie bands.

Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

image

Now this album could have gone horribly wrong. Chvrches could have produced a bland album with repetitive and dull songs and been a total let down from the potential they had shown on their previous EP’s as well the hype they had accumulated on the music scene.Thankfully this is not the case with The Bones Of What You Believe being an exceptionally refreshing piece of music from the three-piece Glaswegian band.

        Instead of rambling through the tracks that are on offer on this album, I’ll just give a few favourites of mine on TBOWYB. The second track We Sink has a ridiculously catchy chorus and shows off the great talent of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty who have selected a great pallete of sounds with Lauren Mayberry’s voice gracefully fitting in and never feeling out of place. Gun, the following track which previously has been on its self titled EP, retains the same traits as the preceding track which creates a strong introduction for the album. Tether goes in a different direction by replacing the vibrant beats with more calming bursts of synthesizers with Mayberry providing a calm and confident vocal performance over it which nearer the end becomes likes the previous tracks in the best way possible by introducing the vibrant beats yet again, creating a stand out track which is very much enjoyable. Under The Tide allows a change of vocals which is a welcome change with a lovely production value. Recover is a favourite of mine and is the first track I heard from the band a few months ago and still holds up now with Mayberry’s confident voice fluttering over the resonant and vivid beats which is sure to be the band’s concert gem like The Captain is for Biffy Clyro.

image

The album is by no means a perfect one. Some tracks can feel a bit half hearted and many might feel that the album can feel repetitive at times. However, it does take a lot of guts to release debut album from a band that are relatively new to the majority of the public at the same time as bands from the same genre (MGMT) and popular bands from other genres (Arctic Monkeys) are releasing their albums and thankfully, the band’s unique voice provided by Lauren Mayberry with special kudos to the other two members of the band Ian Cook and Martin Doherty ,who handle the synthesizers for the tracks on this band like any experienced musician would, make this a top notch debut album and gives Chvrches a very promising future.