Apple leaps into the unknown with its new streaming service. Is it an evolution that will succeed?
Apple Music’s new radio station Beats 1 went to live-to-air to 100 countries yesterday, with an excitable Zane Lowe introducing himself as one of the big-name presenters leading the company into its next chapter. “I come from Auckland, New Zealand and I'm proud to be here broadcasting to the entire world,” he said. “Into the unknown we go.”
Well, we kind of do. No one really seems to have the answers but streaming is the future, apparently, and Apple coming late to the table sees them selling you evolution, not revolution, as much as they’d like you to believe.
The company is competing with Spotify, Rhapsody, Google Play Music and Tidal, the latter of which saw much ridicule for its friends-and-family-of-Jay Z rollout and their selling point of exclusives and high-quality audio that comes at a steep price point. (Tidal is still holding out with their exclusive for Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s insanely cool ‘Feeling Myself’ video though, so it’s arguable.)
But for those of you who have been asleep at your keyboards, Apple Music’s entire 30 million song catalogue, which now includes AC/DC, Dr Dre’s The Chronic and, after a taste of controversy, Taylor Swift’s 1989, is streaming to iOS devices that are new enough to handle it. Apparently the app will be delivered to androids sometime in the future. It’s free for the first three months and after that it’ll cost you $12.99 per month or $19.99 for a family account.
Apple has coined Beats 1 as “radio like you’ve never imagined”. It’s clearly the heart of Apple Music and for those users out there who are not new to streaming, it’ll likely be the highest selling point for convincing them to stray from Pandora and Rdio.
Beats 1 will be home to some celeb-hosted shows, which will be key to the station’s success, with names like Drake, Elton John, Josh Homme, Dr Dre and Pharrell on board. But exclusives are a big part of what Apple are offering too - Zane Lowe’s first show had him premiering ‘Freedom’, a new song from Pharrell Williams, as well as a track from alt-R&B musician Gallant.
Lowe was headhunted for the role and he brings an audience with him from BBC Radio 1. So do Julie Adenuga and Ebro Darden, the two other high profile DJs who come from backgrounds in London’s Rinse FM and New York’s Hot 97 respectively.
All three hosts had a particularly memorable first run, offering sometimes-earnest but captivating broadcasts. Adenuga hilariously recalled that Lowe looked like a “posh guy” when she met him, while Lowe himself made a point of teasing his big-time Eminem interview, and Darden darted back-and-forth with his team for updates on what was happening out in the world (or on the internet, at least). Kendrick Lamar had just released his video for ‘Alright’. Listeners were encouraged to watch it, but not until after the show.
Elsewhere, it’s all about curation and taste. Apple Music’s ‘For You’ section of the app begins by offering up a cluster of bubbles with genres that you can either tap once to ‘like’ or tap twice to ‘love’. From there it’ll offer you suggestions of artists you prefer and then you’ll find yourself presented with a series of curated playlists based on your choices and your existing music library.
Amongst the international big names, local hip hop acts that were suggested were Home Brew, Scribe and Savage. Select those three and you’re presented with playlists such as Kanye West’s New Workout Plan or Nas: Deep Cuts, as well as album suggestions such as The Blueprint, The Eminem Show and Wu-Tang Forever.
Choose rock and you might be offered Straightjacket Fits, Opshop and Shihad. Choose alternative and you’ve got The Naked and Famous, Lorde, Gin Wigmore and Six60.
Pull down to refresh and you’re given a whole new set of albums and playlists to explore. Apple Music is big on recommendations and it’s easy to get started, even if having access to an infinite library of songs is overwhelming.
Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who played a key role in helping to design the streaming service, took the lead yesterday and shared instrumental versions of The Fragile and With Teeth through Connect. The feature adds somewhat of a social media function to the app with users able to comment and engage with the content that gets posted on it, but it’s easily the least inspiring aspect of the entire app. It’ll need some work if it’s going to stand out from the established social networks that artists are already using to promote their music.
Listeners are asking why they should bother with Apple Music, but it’s a legit entry into the market. And with Apple behind the wheel there’s always the promise of development. It has the potential to draw 100 million subscribers over the next two years, reports the New York Times, a number that more than doubles the combined paid subscriptions to all other streaming services. It might not be revolutionary, but it doesn’t look set to fail.