Steve Albini Says For-Pay Streaming Services Are ‘Deluding Themselves,’ Says Vinyl’s Best for Hi-Def
Can Tidal’s promise of CD-quality audio streams and exclusive content really entice the music-listening masses away from freemium streaming? Legendary producer Steve Albini, who has become a reliable soothsayer for the music industry, unsurprisingly doesn’t think so. Calling Tidal a “budget version” of Neil Young’s Pono music download service and player, Albini tells Vulture in a new interview that the “convenience” of free services (like Spotify) and other methods “is going to trump sound quality 100 percent of the time.”
Tidal was combined with sister service WiMP and officially relaunched on March 30 by its new owner Jay Z and a group of 15 other shareholders, including Madonna, Kanye West and Daft Punk. Since then, several of the artists have pulled portions of their catalogs from competing services and Tidal has released several pieces of exclusive content in an effort to get fans to try Tidal, which costs $10 or $20, depending on a user’s audio quality preference.
According to Albini, who produced Nirvana’s In Utero and the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, Tidal and other “for-pay services are deluding themselves by trying to establish a permanent monetization of something that’s in flux.” He notes that Tidal’s exclusive-centric strategy — so far at least — has been misguided.
“The internet provides access to materials and things,” he says. “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.”
Last April, Albini told Quartz that the “single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock, is being able to share music, globally for free.” In November he defended the internet’s role in transforming the music industry in a 6,700-word speech that’s seen as a sequel to his seminal 1993 essay on major labels, “The Problem With Music.”
While the internet is pretty great, Albini goes on to argue in his Vulture interview that audiophiles with a passion for loss-less sound quality are probably going to side with vinyl anyway. Indeed, vinyl sales jumped 50 percent in 2014 to $320.8 million in the U.S. alone — one of the lone bright spots in a year that saw big dips in CD and download sales. Earlier this week, the U.K.’s Official Charts Company launched its inaugural Vinyl Albums Chart Top 40 and Vinyl Singles Chart Top 40.