Apple has hired Zane Lowe, one of Britain’s best-known DJs. He’s going to move to the US to work for Apple, but we still don’t know exactly what he’s doing.
The BBC barely mentioned where Lowe is going (it mentioned Apple just once in its news report on his departure). But here’s what people are saying that Lowe could be doing at Apple:
Presenting iTunes Radio
The Guardian has an interesting explanation of what Lowe is going to be working with Apple on. It says that Lowe is leaving to work on iTunes Radio.
iTunes Radio is Apple’s music streaming service that builds online radio stations based on your tastes. It’s been pretty successful in the US, but hasn’t been as wildly successful as perhaps Apple hoped.
Online radio services and streaming sites are pretty cool in concept, but they can feel somewhat soulless. iTunes Radio uses algorithms to learn your tastes based on music you select. Once you hit play, it plays through songs. There’s no presenter, and it’s all a bit robotic. Adding a familiar voice like Zane Lowe to iTunes Radio could make it more appealing to listeners (as well as convincing traditional radio listeners that internet radio is the way to go).
Curating music on iTunes Radio
Here’s another interesting theory about Lowe and Apple: He could be joining Apple to select and tailor the music selection for iTunes Radio. Curated playlists are big business right now.
Jay-Z is close to acquiring Aspiro, the Swedish company behind streaming sites WiMP and Tidal. Those sites are pretty similar to Spotify, but there are two big differences: Aspiro sites stream lossless music as default, making them attractive to audiophiles.
But Aspiro’s second selling point is more interesting. The company has been keen to promote the fact that it has hired a team of people to curate music into playlists. When you first fire up WiMP or Tidal, you’re presented with a selection of playlists made by people who know and understand music.
Perhaps Lowe will take the blend of rock and rap music that was so popular at Radio 1 and bring that to iTunes Radio. It seems unlikely that Lowe will be the only star curator on iTunes Radio, so we may see more big-names in music being hired by Apple in the coming months.
Another reason why Lowe was so popular at Radio 1 was his series of high-profile, exclusive interviews with some of the most famous people in music. Lowe often broadcasts lengthy conversations with musicians like Kanye West, Jay-Z and Eminem, as well as more behind-the-scenes figures like Rick Rubin. Those conversations offer an interesting look at the way music is produced, and bring more insight into a standard radio show.
Apple is keen to make album releases a big event on iTunes. Artists often stream albums ahead of release, Apple allows them to upload digital booklets, and it’s working on a new video/audio album experience format with U2 frontman Bono. Zane Lowe could become a part of that album launch experience by recording interviews with the world’s biggest musicians and broadcasting them through iTunes.
Discovering and promoting music
Lowe didn’t just rely on big names to fill his radio show. He also promoted upcoming artists by featuring them as his “next hype” song. That was a big achievement for young bands, as they were played on primetime national radio.
Musicians even mention in their official YouTube videos that Zane Lowe has featured their work:
Apple hasn’t done a huge amount to help low-profile musicians get their work heard. Its long-running “Single of the Week” promotion, which featured free singles from bands you probably haven’t heard of, was killed off at the start of 2015 after 11 years.
Maybe Apple is planning on launching a new section on iTunes that will promote upcoming artists, and Lowe is going to play a big part in that.