This new free tier differs from the core Tidal service in a few critical ways. The first is that it doesn’t offer what the service calls HiFi audio; tracks will stream at “up to 160 kbps.” The second is that it’s ad-supported, much like other service’s free tiers, although Tidal says you’ll only have to suffer through “limited ad interruptions.” (Which is what every ad-supported service claims.)
“We’ve determined that a limited free offering is necessary in order to introduce the service into a broader audience,” Tidal says in a support article about the new subscription tier. “And, TIDAL [emphasis theirs] pays our label and publishing partners directly for every stream on the free tier without subsidizing these streams with external advertising.”
People willing to pay for Tidal have two tiers to choose from: HiFi and HiFi Plus. Both are ad-free services that offer access to the platform’s entire catalog with support for offline playback and the ability to “track and share your listening habits.” HiFi offers “up to 1411 kbps” playback; HiFi Plus supports “up to 9216 kbps” along with Dolby Atmos, Sony 360 Reality Audio, and other formats.
HiFi Plus also includes two new features that are supposed to help its users support the artists they like. The first, Direct Artist Payouts, means that “up to 10% of your subscription is directed to the artists you listen to the most.” The second is called Fan-Centered Royalties, and when it debuts in 2022 it’s supposed to allow users’ listening habits to inform artists’ royalty payments.
“Starting in January 2022, we will include a fan-centered royalties approach to paying artists within our HiFi Plus tier,” Tidal says. “This fairer take on royalty payments ensures that your monthly subscription goes directly to your own favorite artists as opposed to the industry accepted method of allocating it to the most popular artists.”
These changes reflect the evolving music-streaming market. Tidal debuted with the promise of providing higher-quality playback than competitive services as well as more favorable terms for artists on the platform. Now that other services have improved their audio quality, appealing to people who are willing to pay a little extra if it benefits their favorite artists makes sense.
“Tidal has always been comfortable as the home for the audiophiles, the crate diggers, and the music nerds,” the company says. “We’re not for everyone, just the people who care more about music than the average fan. (Sound like anyone you know?) Our subscribers really care about music, are loyal, and they’ve come this far on our journey. We’re hoping that the new stuff we are about to begin rolling out will compel them to continue and to bring their friends along.”
Tidal says the new free tier is “rolling out gradually on Android and will be available on all devices in the coming days.” (It’s already available on iOS devices and the web.)