On Saturday night, Jason and I opened a 30-day trial account on Tidal, a streaming music service. What makes Tidal different from other services, such as Spotify and iTunes radio is that the listener not only has the ability to control what pieces they hear, but the music is played in full resolution, so it sounds exactly like listening to a CD. Tidal currently has license to play 36 million tracks, so the possibilities are practically endless.
As soon as we opened the account, we listened to an album that we had both been anxious to hear, but we could never find on CD, The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow. I’m sure if we had gone to Amazon we’d have found a copy to purchase, but hunting it down in used CD shops became a kind of adventure for us. I guess the nature of that game is going to change a lot with this new toy at our disposal.
The set-up of the service is pretty slick. You can search for songs, albums, or artists. Then you can simply play what you want or you can “Favorite” anything that you can to go back and hear later.
Our first step was to Favorite everything on our CD wish lists, then we just poked around for a bit. Two days later, we have almost 100 albums lined up, just waiting for us to devote the time to careful, critical listening. Something tells me that setting aside time for actually listening is going to prove to be the challenge in this enterprise.
Luckily, not everything I’ve set aside for later requires the environment for critical listening, and for those other types of albums, I can take advantage of other features of Tidal. For example, I can stream music on my phone, either in full resolution (which would be silly, given the lousy sound production capabilities of a phone) or in a compressed stream (thus, using less data). I can also download tracks or albums to my phone to play offline (this option is not yet available for PCs or Macs, just for phones and tablets). Somehow I doubt hearing a standup comedy album that’s been compressed will be any less funny that in full resolutions, so I’m going to enjoy some Mitch Hedberg during my morning commutes. BTW, once you cancel the service, all of the music that has been downloaded to your phone or tablet goes away, so be wary.
So, what all of this means is a big change to Breckling listening nights. It is our hope that we can continue to expand our music collection (albeit in a different way), take time to listen critically, and not become paralyzed by too many choices.
We’ve already set up some rules: if one of use saves a song or album that we want to share with the other, neither of us is allowed to cheat and listen in advance. Once we’ve both heard it, it is fair game, and we can follow our individual tastes to listen as much (or as little) as we want. That’s worked well with the two albums we’ve heard so far (we also listened to Kurt Vile on Saturday night), and I’ll be enjoying the new Duran Duran album on my own (no accounting for the taste of my husband).
Despite the incredible freedom involved in having these kinds of listening options, I still can’t help but wonder if something will prove to be missing. There is something really satisfying about holding a CD in your hand, looking at the cover art, reading the lyric sheets, etc. I also really enjoyed the process of going into a used CD shop, just to see what we’d stumble across. There was a pleasant serendipity in finding an album that I hadn’t thought about in years, bringing it home, and finding that I still remember all the words. I don’t know how that will work now. I guess we’ll see…
So, after a few days, my current relationship with Tidal would best be described as cautiously optimistic. I’ll keep you posted as things develop.
Not surprisingly, the first album I hear on Tidal is the first that I will recommend to you: The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow. The band was recommended to us by our pastor back in North Carolina (a dude with surprisingly hip tastes, given his profession), and, like I said, we’d looked for it for quite a while without success.
I’ve only heard it twice so far, but it covers a pretty impressive range of styles and moods. It’s also beautifully recorded, making it a great option for trying out a higher resolution listening platform.
Let me know what you think!
Molly M. Breckling holds a Ph.D. in Historical Musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her areas of research interest are the songs of Gustav Mahler, popular music, and music history pedagogy. Her goal is to help others listen to music more actively and to develop a greater appreciation for the music that surrounds us every day.