Apple Sets The Stage For Music Domination

Music industry veteran Jimmy Iovine announces Apple Music during Apple WWDC today in San Francisco

Is on-demand streaming, worldwide radio and artist-to-fan connections enough to conquer the mainstream?


After a year-long wait, and a WWDC presentation that felt like it was another year long, Apple Music was finally unveiled to the world. None of its core features were all that surprising, given the amount of information that had been released leading up to the event, but it still resulted in a boatload of chatter and plenty of hot takes. So in that spirit, here’s one more.

All joking aside, no one can predict with any real certainty whether Apple Music will reach its stated goal of having 100 million subscribers. That’s a fairly major multiple of number of subscribers any of the other major services have, but given the responses (Daniel Ek’s now deleted “Oh, OK” tweet; Rdio’s bizarre parody of an Apple ad; Slacker’s “hey, we were here first”), the existing services are spooked. None of them bothered tweeting anything snarky when Tidal was announced.

Apple highlighted three core features in the presentation. The first is the basic streaming service, with the ability to listen to music on-demand and check out playlists. It’s arguably the least compelling part of the whole package, because it doesn’t differ substantially from any of the other services in the market. The catalogue might be slightly different (one sharp eyed observer noticed AC/DC in a tracklist during the presentation, which might signal that they’ve finally entered the streaming market), but not enough to give it an edge. The Beatles weren’t mentioned at all, which probably means they won’t be included in the streaming product. Apple also fell back on the “millions of songs, from all over the world” line that others have used, even though most people don’t want millions of songs — they want the right song, right now.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, speaks during the Apple WWDC today in San Francisco

They then highlighted Beats 1 radio, helmed by former BBC Radio1 superstar Zane Lowe. Although the service will host a number of radio shows, some users I chatted with initially confused and thought that there would only be one radio station for the entire service. No other streaming player has a radio service that has been marketed so robustly, although there are plenty of other streaming radio stations available right now. Lowe is well known in the U.K. but will need more of an introduction to audiences in other territories — and they’re banking on a celebrity DJ being a big deal. In the U.S., the rise of jukebox radio format and the success of Pandora might point to the fact that a big name curator isn’t what people are looking for.

Finally, they rolled out Connect, which looks like a social feed for fans. For people who want to experience a music-only stream, this could be a huge benefit — no more seeing posts from artists sandwiched between posts about news and the weather. If people are averse to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, this is potentially an interesting alternative. Obviously any “exclusive” content posted to Connect will be on other services within minutes, so that’s not an argument in its favor.

Rap superstar Drake describes Apple Music’s Connect feature

Apple will also have to make sure the content on Connect is relevant and not overwhelming — many artists have lost me as a follower on Twitter because they felt the need to retweet every nice comment about them. The fact that unsigned and emerging artists can use the service is excellent, but whether they can make any noise on the service is another matter. It’s all well and good to be in the ecosystem, but there are plenty of bedroom artists who have deals with aggregators up on streaming services right now, and they have 10 plays to their name.

At the end of the day, Apple doesn’t necessarily need to win the music loving consumer who already uses Spotify or Deezer — maybe some will switch, maybe some won’t, but that only gets them a fraction of the way to their goal. They need to capture the hearts and minds of average Joes and Janes who like music, but not enough to pay for Spotify. With this in mind, I called my brother-in-law to get his opinion based on the video they showed at WWDC about the product.

My brother-in-law is arguably their target customer, or at least one of them. He’s in his early thirties, middle class with two kids, living in the suburbs. He’s a casual music fan who attends a handful of shows per year and follows music, but not terribly closely. The most excited he got during the video was exclaiming, “Oh wow, Trent Reznor!”

He said the service seemed like something that would be useful if you were really into an artist, but he can find all the info he needs on artists he likes on Google, and he gets his music mostly on YouTube. He also uses Pandora at home, but wishes the stations offered more variety. The promise of curated Apple Music stations didn’t really hold his interest, as he’s perfectly happy flipping between terrestrial radio channels and listening to the music he already owns. He knows about Spotify, but doesn’t see the value in paying for it; he knows more people who have Sirius/XM, but again, he doesn’t see the need to subscribe. Overall, he likely won’t sign up for Apple Music.

Again, this is one guy’s opinion, based on one viewing of the video. I might see him at the holidays and he’ll tell me he loves Apple Music. But Apple should at least consider spinning some of the features in a slightly different light. They’ve created a compelling product that could put a dent in Spotify and others — but it’s unclear whether it can be the worldbeater they want it to be.


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