Steve Albini Weighs In On Tidal Debate

Musicians including Ben Gibbard, Mumford & Sons, and Lily Allen have joined our own Michael Nelson in shitting on Tidal, the expensive new “high-quality” streaming music service from Jay Z and his famous friends. Now it’s Steve Albini’s turn! Surprisingly, Albini has taken every opportunity to expound on his love of streaming music — and he’s theoretically the target market for the hi-def listening experience Tidal promises — but even he thinks Tidal is a crock. Here’s an excerpt from Vulture’s new interview with the legendary musician, audio engineer, and zine writer:

“Historically, every time there’s been a new technological progression, there’s been a new convenience format [for listening to music],” he said. “So the question is, is it possible for something to be more convenient than streaming? And the answer is obviously yes.” He imagines a cheap app that autonomously searches for music from anywhere on the internet; streaming, like CDs and the 8-track tape, is just a temporary development in a long line of new technologies designed for convenience.

Albini also called Tidal a “budget version of Pono,” adding, “if you want your music to play at the push of a button, convenience is going to trump sound quality 100 percent of the time.” He thinks people who really want the gold standard in lossless audio will opt for vinyl every time:

“It’s for the same reason,” he says, “that if you had a screen that displayed paintings in your living room, very few serious art enthusiasts would care for such a screen despite the fact that it might show you very high-resolution images of artworks. They want to own a piece of art that is a direct connection to the person who made it. Having an HD screen in your house that would display artwork might have a market, but it’s not the same market as people who are interested in owning art.” In other words, the difference between people who are willing to buy music and those who want music at the push of a button is being vastly underestimated.

Albini also thinks trying to charge for streaming content is like trying to transport water in a leaky bucket:

“The for-pay services are deluding themselves by trying to establish a permanent monetization of something that’s in flux,” he says. “The internet provides access to materials and things. Creating these little streaming fiefdoms where certain streaming services have certain artists and certain streaming services have other artists is a crippled use of the internet. If the internet has demonstrated anything over the years, it’s that it has a way of breaking limitations placed on its content.” To his point, last week, Beyoncé and Rihanna released videos exclusively on Tidal; both were immediately available through other sources within a few hours.

He added that he originally kept his music off Spotify until he started to feel “snobbish” about it. He actually uses Spotify’s radio function from time to time: “The High on Fire channel is excellent if you want background music for poker.” Read the full interview here.

[Photo by Jordi Vidal/Redferns.]