Tidal’s New Feature Is a Throwback to the Days of Radio DJs

Could this signal the rise of modern indie radio stations?

  • Tidal’s DJ session lets anyone turn their listening session into a DJ session
  • Anyone can listen live, with just a link. 
  • Good DJs could get a following, like old indie radio stations.
A music DJ with sound equipment on an urban rooftop.

Peathegee Inc / Getty Images

Hi-fi music-streaming service Tidal is about to change how we discover new music.

The new Tidal DJ session feature lets anyone DJ a set, and share a link so that whoever wants to can tune in live. This could be as simple as sharing a session with friends or as fancy as starting your own radio station, and it could totally shake up music discovery and make Tidal the go-to streaming service—unless Spotify and Apple copy it first.

"As an independent music recording artist, I was excited to hear about Tidal's new DJ session feature. On the surface, it seems like a really cool and convenient way to share music with friends and even start your own radio station. But as I've had a chance to use it and think about it more, I've come to see that it has the potential to be much more than just a fun feature," touring musician Arnold aka theRave, told Lifewire via email.

Tide Is High

There are several ways to discover new music today, from the algorithmic recommendations in your music-streaming app to hoping you hear about something on social media. But the algorithms are—for me anyway—so hit-and-miss that they are useless, and scraping the socials for new tunes is a lot of hassle. 

At the risk of sounding nostalgic, one of the best ways ever to discover new bands was to find a good radio DJ. Local radio stations would often host somebody who was always on top of the latest releases, underground acts, and emerging artists. In the UK, listeners of a certain age were lucky enough to have John Peel, an incredible discoverer of new music, on the national BBC Radio One station every weeknight for decades.

A smartphone displaying a playlist on Tidal.


These DJs were great. You could listen until you heard something you liked. And once you found a DJ you were in tune with, the number of hits could be quite high. 

Tidal's DJ Sessions may or may not be intended for this, but why not? Imagine "tuning in" to your favorite DJ regularly to hear what gems they've put together this time. And because it's live, there's a sense of time and place, which is somehow more real than just seeing a playlist somebody curated at some time in the past. 

Moving On

There are, of course, some catches. One is that you have to be a Tidal subscriber to listen in. And to initiate the DJ session, you must be a HiFi Plus subscriber. This means there are no copyright problems for the DJ, as there might be if they actually broadcast a set over the Internet independently.

It also means that you are limited to songs already on Tidal. There's no way to play demos, indie releases, or anything that isn't part of tidal's catalog, which is a shame because this would also be a great way for musicians to share their music with the world. 

"I love the idea of being able to share a DJ session with other people and watch as they play my music. It's a great way to get feedback on your own music, and it also gives you a chance to learn from others," musician and publisher of the Strong Sounds website Gideon Waxman told Lifewire via email.

A music producer working in a recording studio.

Jose Carlos Cerdeno Martinez / Getty Images

Imagine a big-name artist dropping an unreleased track during a DJ session. That would be pretty wild. 

And, of course, it's neat just to be able to DJ a set for your friends or even your remote co-workers.

Tidal's biggest problem might be that this idea is so easy to copy. If it takes off, then Spotify and Apple Music could easily replicate it. Apple has a massive advantage here because you can already follow friends and artists in the Music app, so you could surely receive a notification when any of them starts a DJ session. 

What this really highlights is how much better people are than algorithms at finding music we might like. Some of you readers may be old enough to remember the mixtape, how much care one might put into making a mixtape for a friend or lover, and how amazing it was to receive something so lovingly created. DJ Sessions will never be that, but they are better than a lot of what passes for music discovery right now.

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