Apple Music is all about the people.
On the surface, it sounds pretty similar to Spotify and other streaming music services. For $US10 a month, you’ll get access to any of more than 30 million songs in the Apple Music catalogue. Unlike Spotify, though, there’s no free version.
There’s also a radio station called Beats 1, and a service called Connect, which is for artists to release special and exclusive material, like outtakes and videos.
But Apple hopes to stand out from the masses by emphasising the human factor. For instance, there’s a For You section that recommends music you might like based on music in your library, tunes you’ve bought or played recently, and so on. Unlike services such as Pandora, which use algorithms to build playlists based around artists or genres, Apple boasts that these playlists are curated by experts.
Jimmy Iovine, a long-time record industry bigshot who cofounded the Beats music service and hardware line that Apple bought last year, boasted that these people are “leading music experts who we helped hand pick.”
Same with Beats 1 — a video boasted that the people curating the radio station are not going to play it safe based on audience research. Instead, they are going to pick aggressive, cutting-edge music. The command from Apple was “Put the great music in front of the average….Move the needle.”
This all sounds like a throwback to the heyday of FM radio in the 1970s, and the high-point of college radio in the 1980s and early 1990s, when radio DJs were still independent enough to choose their own playlists.
There’s a lot of nostalgia for those days among music industry types who’ve been around for a long time — Tom Petty did a whole album in 2002 devoted to the idea, “The Last DJ,” whose title track featured the lines “There goes the last DJ/Who plays what he wants to play/Who says what he wants to say/Hey hey hey.”
But those were different times. Music was expensive and rare, and radio was the only easy way to hear new songs as they came out. Having an expert guide was essential. Otherwise, you’d just hear the same popular songs, over and over again. (Which is what radio eventually became.)
But that’s not the case today. There’s more music than ever! Anybody with a computer can create a decent sounding recording. You can hear millions of hours of free music on YouTube and SoundCloud, pick and choose on services like Spotify, entrust your listening experience to one of countless Internet radio stations, listen to hundreds of dedicated stations focused on your favourite genres on XM satellite radio…and on and on.
The people who are really into music already know where to find it and take pride in discovering their own stuff, first.
Those who aren’t that into music and just want good background tunes probably won’t hear that much difference between the experts and the algorithms.
If Apple hopes to use expert curation as the selling point for a service that costs $US10 a month, those better be some amazing experts.
Sing it, Tom:
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