A Wishlist for Apple’s New Streaming Service
We’re only a week out from the launch of Apple’s streaming service, and though rumors are flying about incomplete deals, Drake and Pharrell have been booked and that means things are going down. Those of us in music/tech nerd land have been annoying our families and friends with chatter about this since the Beats acquisition over a year ago, and now the big day is almost upon us. Plenty of details have already leaked, but none of them have pointed to anything that game-changing. There are predictions that if the new Beats succeeds, it will be because lots of people will sign up for the free trial and forget to cancel — the old Free Credit Report strategy (maybe Apple should book that band for a WWDC event). Still, dare to dream and all that — here’s a wishlist for the product we’ll all be furiously tweeting about next week.
Better socialization: Yeah, we all remember the great Ping disaster of 2010. Steve Jobs described it as being “sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes,” but “not Facebook,” “not Twitter,” and “something else … all about music.” Holy product confusion, Batman! It makes that drunk bro on BART’s Uber for cats startup sound positively well-conceived and viable. But times change and we can move on.
No one wants other social networks to automatically post what they’re listening to. No one wants or needs a new MySpace — the existing MySpace still exists, apparently. But a way of sharing music with friends seamlessly still doesn’t exist on a mass scale, and sharing the digital equivalent of the much beloved mix-CD is still difficult. 8tracks is a cool product but, because of their licence, tracks aren’t skippable. Spotify seems to have totally given up on user generated playlists, and playlist creators have noticed and given up in kind. Many of the writers and influencers I once followed stopped updating their lists ages ago.
People are smart and cynical enough to realize that Beyonce isn’t actually making her playlists — but cool publications and writers are, and there’s no easy way to listen to many of them. I love Flavorwire and Vulture’s songs of the week lists, but neither have Spotify playlists, and it’s annoying to have to sit in front of your computer and click to play each track when you want to listen.
Of course, many of the songs on these lists are from emerging artists, which brings us to the second wish..
More unofficial content: Hey, Apple can still buy Soundcloud. Streaming services like Spotify and Tidal lose out to free services in large part because of their cost, but also because kids like hearing remixes and new stuff, and tracks that aren’t sanctioned by labels aren’t on the major services. It seems foolish to just pull content from Soundcloud when labels could be monetizing the remixes and covers that make up a big chunk of the site.
Along with this, more global content, please. Letting artists upload directly to the site would be a huge benefit to those working in markets without a strong label infrastructure, and a focus on promoting non-Western artists would be a great differentiator.
Next-level artist subscriptions: Babes in Toyland’s NYC show went on sale last week, when I happened to be on vacation and out of the country. In an era when we can consume most things when it’s most convenient, we still have to be online at an appointed hour to get tickets for desireable shows — deeply lame. Not to mention that keeping track of all those on-sale dates and times is a pain.
Not to mention that for every artist who uses Twitter to post interesting, relevant content, there are plenty who just retweet every nice thing anyone has ever written — and any actually interesting info, like tour dates in my city, get lost in the shuffle. What if Apple partnered with a ticketing company and then just let me subscribe to certain artists and automatically bought tickets for me when that band came to my market? They already have my credit card info, after all.
Circling back to the above points about playlists — what if I could just get updates and tickets for every band a certain publication added to their playlist? Or be notified when interesting video content featuring certain acts was released? Anything that can reduce friction between fans and artists is a huge win for everyone.
Make iTunes Radio more like real radio: There are millions of great music listening options out there — and yet people are still tuning in to terrestrial radio. A friend of mine has tons of music apps — and yet listens to the local alt-rock station in her car because she likes the morning show hosts and the snowboard report in the winter. Sure, she can look at traffic, weather, and the news before she leaves the house with other apps — but she’s busy and her time in the car is her catch up time.
It sounds like iTunes Radio will be personality driven, which is a good start — but including hyper local content in-between tracks could be a smart move. If Apple learned the routes I take most and the times I take them most often, they could offer traffic focused on those routes. Apple could learn my interests and offer curated news. The weather is the weather, I guess (unless you live in San Francisco), but you get get customized reports based on interests (like the snowboard report).
Look, the should drop the price and focus on building out the infrastructure so that people can stream how much they want wherever they want, but that’s not going to happen. Even with the Apple name, Beats is entering a crowded field with no clear winners. A few additions and tweaks could help put them ahead of the pack.