Examining the True Potential of Apple Music Connect

For all that it does well, it has failed to help artists take the next steps in connecting with fans

Next week brings a major milestone for Apple Music — three months after launch, free trials will start running out and users will have to decide whether it is worth $9.99 a month to stick with the service. The product has gone from a splashy launch at the end of June to not even warranting a mention at the last Apple event, and one high profile exec has already departed, admittedly for what sounds like an unturndownable dream job at a luxury brand in Paris.

I’ve been using Apple Music since it launched, almost daily, and I still generally like it. There are certainly bugs that need to be worked out — for instance, playlists I subscribe to don’t update unless I unsubscribe and resubscribe, which is annoying — but the overall experience is solid. Their curated playlists are generally on the nose, although the app doesn’t match Spotify in terms of new music discovery. The “New” section is still unwieldy and overwhelming. The radio offerings, particularly the hyped Beats1, are high quality, although some of the excitement has worn off. I personally don’t love the DJ chatter, but that’s just me. In terms of the programming, it remains top notch.

Where Apple Music has fallen short, though, is with Connect. Not many artists on there, and those that are don’t post much content. There’s no real reason to engage with Connect at all, which is a shame and huge missed opportunity. For all that it does well, Apple has still failed to help artists take the next steps in connecting with fans.

It doesn’t have to be this way. None of the existing social networks are perfect for artists — Facebook is too sprawling; Twitter too limited in terms of content and the stream too ephemeral. Instagram is clean and simple but doesn’t provide anything unique for musicians. Flipagram is still a relative upstart. Vine only works with a small handful of artists. Connect could be a real opportunity to create something great, but it seems stuck in neutral.

Future & Drake’s “What a Time To Be Alive” is an Apple Music exclusive that was released this week, proposed to have sold roughly 500k copies

First off, Connect needs to figure out what its value proposition is. Right now it simply…exists. It’s as if someone on the team said “we need a social network because…we need one” and built it from there. Is Connect’s purpose to provide exclusives (which generally make it to other outlets in under ten minutes and negate the whole point of the thing)? Is it to break news? To sell tickets or merch? To create a community for artists and fans to interact with each other?

The last value proposition is, I believe, the strongest. Now, there are theoretically tons of platforms for artist and fan community engagement in the market already — but none of them are that good. There’s too much noise and they all turn out to basically be a one-way street, with many fans shouting at an artist and the artist occasionally replying. They are also divorced from the act of listening to music — if an artist tells you about great new music on another social platform, it’s harder to get to it and then follow leads than it could be in Connect.

What Connect could do is narrow the circle. For instance, it could use the data it already has on how much someone listens to an artist, and cross-reference it with other social data, and figure out who an artist’s most valuable fans in Apple Music are. From there, it could grant access to those fans, showing them content or letting them chat with the artist at given points. If Connect is also upfront with users about how they could access those special perks, engagement would grow because other users will want to participate. This is a direct path from discovery to engagement, and it’ll both differentiate the service and make it stickier. For artists, it provides an incentive for people to listen to their music more — which means more money.

The other place Connect could iterate is connecting fans with one another. No other social network has been able to crack that code — it’s why, even with all the apps we visit daily, people say one of the biggest reasons they don’t go to events is because they have no one to go with. If Connect could be a platform for fans to share, make plans, and meet each other, it could prove very valuable and, again, sticky. Just putting up a video once a week or hosting an event every so often won’t keep anyone coming back — but offering a place where people can form meaningful bonds will.

In a way, Connect could become almost like a political campaigning organization for artists. It sounds odd, but many musicians could learn quite a bit from grassroots political campaigning — namely, superserve your biggest supporters and let other supporters be your voice, because you can’t be everywhere. Political campaigns have some of the strongest community bonds and most loyal folks, because people are rewarded for connecting with others and bringing them into the fold. If Connect can marry data with outreach opportunity, it could be something new and game-changing for artists.

Even if Connect doesn’t go down this road, it needs to figure out something, and fast. The last thing anyone wants is another Ping, which somehow managed to hang on for two years before folding. Connect has all the money and resources behind it that one could possibly ask for, as well as the Apple name and a streaming service that’s pretty darn good. If the folks behind Connect can’t take this and build something pretty cool with it, they’ll have squandered a huge chance to create something great.

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