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Tidal vs. Spotify: Which is better for artists?

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Current wisdom holds that streaming music is great for listeners and bad for artists — especially indie music artists. Its convenience makes it a listener’s delight, but for artists, the meager royalties make streaming seem like a rigged carnival game.

While this may be, music streaming is part of modern life, and there are ways for you to make the best of it. In this post, we’re going to look at Tidal vs. Spotify and determine which is the better platform for you as an independent artist.

What is Tidal?

Tidal is a streaming platform best known for being formerly owned by Jay-Z. Jay-Z’s intention was to create an artist-focused app, paying higher royalties and offering artists the chance to release music directly to audiences. Tidal’s other main selling point has been its high resolution files; currently they offer up to 24 bit FLAC streaming.

What is Spotify?

Spotify is the world’s most popular music streaming service, with 31 percent of the total global market share. It’s available in over 93 countries, and its user-friendly interface has contributed to its success. Right now, Spotify’s diversification into podcasts and audiobooks is their latest selling point.

Comparing royalty models and artist compensation

In comparing Tidal vs. Spotify, one distinction is the different royalty calculation. Spotify takes the total number of streams for a month and divides revenue based on the percentage controlled by specific rightsholders. This favors larger artists, labels, and publishers. Tidal calculates a per-stream royalty — a more equitable arrangement.

Tidal’s royalty structure

Tidal pays $0.01284 per stream. This is adjusted based on listener location (in some countries you pay more to subscribe) and subscription level. Distribution of funds is on a per-stream base royalty.

Tidal is not forthcoming about what artists make on the platform. Some indie musicians complain it takes them a very long time to receive payments (Tidal has been sued in the past for royalty nonpayment). Tidal is recommitting itself to indie artists in 2024, trying to figure out ways to pay out revenue not tied to streaming.

Spotify’s royalty structure

Spotify’s royalties are paid pro rata based on the total number of streams and each rightsholder’s share of the total. Like Tidal, what you finally receive is based on your distribution agreement. Spotify is tilting in favor of large artists even more in 2024; soon they will only pay for tracks with 1,000 or more plays in any 12-month period.

Some major artists earn a great deal from Spotify; Taylor Swift will earn over $100 million this year. But that’s the exception: the changes coming in 2024 mean that two-thirds of tracks on their platform will earn nothing.

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Transparency in royalty reporting

Tidal does not specify how much total money it doles out. Many artists online have gripes about how long it takes to receive Tidal payments.

Spotify is a bit more transparent about what it pays to each artist, and smaller artists mockingly post their tiny royalty checks online regularly. Spotify For Artists tells you how many streams you received but doesn’t break down the money. Payouts, for what it’s worth, occur once a month.

User experience and music discovery

When deciding on Tidal vs. Spotify, weigh each platform’s ability to promote new music. Both platforms feature new music on their front pages and in playlists. You may have seen Release Radar in your Spotify playlist music library that pulls new releases from artists you follow.

Some users feel that Spotify’s algorithm picks “safer” music that is close to what they really like and Tidal’s algorithm picks more adventurous music that occasionally misses the mark.

Both platforms create “dynamic mixes” for subscribers that include new music; these are playlists that change over time synced to listener habits. Both have an autoplay feature which will play a song the app thinks you will like after your current song. In addition, both platforms suggest artists adjacent to your preferred artists.

Tidal’s focus on curated content

Tidal has playlists it creates and a plethora of artist- and user-curated playlists. Tidal Daily Discovery is a personalized mix based on your patterns; My Mix is a changing personalized group of up to six different playlists.

Tidal Rising is a space created specifically for up-and-coming artists. Audio and video content are posted there and curated playlists are delineated by genre.

Spotify’s focus on curated content

Similarly to Tidal, Spotify creates playlists for listeners based on previous listens including a daily mix, a weekly mix, and a new release mix — all are updated frequently. The Daylist is a personalized playlist for you based on what you usually listen to at a specific time of day.

Of course, getting your music noticed by the Spotify algorithm can be challenging. The more you promote your music on social media and through playlists, the more the algorithm seems to reward that activity with attention. Some also believe that releasing new music every 5–6 weeks boosts all your music.

Artist and listener engagement

One of the main drawbacks to both platforms is they provide artists with raw audience data but not information to directly connect with them. You get general demographics (location, age, stream count) but not specifically who is listening nor how to contact them. Both services will show you any user who has added you to a playlist, however. The kind of two-way interaction that facilitates audience growth can’t happen on either; you’ll need to direct fans to other social media platforms through your artist pages.

Tidal’s artist and fan connection

Tidal Artist Home is your dashboard where you can control what your listeners see on your profile. Your fans can find their way to your outside social media through links you provide.

Tidal’s artist-owned origin doesn’t impact audience engagement except through the higher royalty rate and a general verbal commitment to supporting artists. Currently, Tidal is owned by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and is planning to partner with UMG to figure out innovative ways of getting more money into the hands of indie artists.

Spotify’s community features

Spotify’s community features are limited to the Spotify Artist page, the ability to share tracks to social media, and collaborative playlists. Collaborative playlists are those that you and your fans can add tracks to together. Spotify has a new feature called Jam where you can create a playlist in real time with other users and listen simultaneously.

The Spotify for Artists dashboard gives you a ton of listener demographic data and also informs you which users have added you to a playlist. This information can help you market your music in the world at large. Whether your audience is younger and up all night or older and in bed by 7 pm, this data can help guide you to what kinds of songs they might like and when it is best to release new music.

The impact of exclusivity deals

Releasing exclusive music on a platform was mostly done by the mega-famous and has stopped in recent years. Most people disliked it, including the music industry, with UMG even banning their artists from exclusively releasing to specific platforms in 2016.

Non-music exclusive content is still being released, though. Spotify and Tidal have both experimented with virtual concerts and Spotify has exclusive rights to a number of podcasters. Services need exclusive content to differentiate themselves, but with a record or single release, you are more likely to frustrate your fans by making your albums exclusive to any one platform.

Now that multiple streaming services are competing with Spotify, changes to the streaming model are on the way. Even the average user is becoming aware of compressed 320 Kbps file limitations. Providing high-resolution files appeals to audiophiles and laypeople alike. Users are also becoming more aware of the ethics of paying fair royalties.

What these changes mean for Tidal vs. Spotify remains to be seen. Spotify has considered offering high-resolution files and both services will most likely have to offer more direct fan engagement. This could lead to creation of a “superfan” tier, where fans could pay for closer interaction and exclusives with artists. All the streaming services are most likely going to have to offer higher artist royalties in order to retain subscribers in the next decade.

Making the decision: Tidal vs. Spotify

So, which should you choose, Tidal or Spotify? As an independent artist, it’s good to submit your music to all platforms — you should have your music everywhere! However, focus your promotional efforts on one or the other depending on where you’re getting the most streams, which one pays better, and where you are getting the most playlist activity. If high-resolution files are something your audience might demand, you’ll need to consider which streaming service offers those.

Spotify has the largest subscriber base but the lowest music quality; it is the easiest to use and pays the least. Tidal has a much smaller subscriber base but high-resolution files are available, and it pays four times as much. Which streaming service you commit to is your choice; it is worth taking the time to learn both and then figure out where to direct your efforts.

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Chris Huff

About Chris Huff

Chris Huff has been a professional singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer for over 25 years. He has worked as a sideman with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary), Echo and the Bunnymen, Chuck Hammer (David Bowie, Lou Reed), and Tom Kitt (Broadway composer of Next To Normal). Chris also wrote liner notes for David Bowie’s Live And Well CD, and his full-length album, 'bout Time is available on iTunes.

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