Talking to Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine about Apple Music

On Monday afternoon, I went to Apple’s campus to meet with Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, and Beats Founder, Jimmy Iovine, to talk about Apple Music.

Apple is heading into a streaming market filled with competitors. For the first time in many years, Apple is doing something in the music market where it is not the de facto leader. However, competitors didn’t determine what Apple would do with its new service.

“We certainly pay attention to what competitors are doing, but I’m never losing any sleep on competitors,” said Cue. “I don’t have any control over what they do—what I have control over is what we do. We’ve spent all of our time and energy thinking about what it is we want to build.”

There are a lot of different components to Apple Music. Some existing from iTunes, others integrated from Beats. These are the pieces that Apple needed to put together to make Apple Music stand out from everyone else.

“If you define the service by the fact there’s 30 million songs you can play, they’re all the same,” said Cue. “It doesn’t matter which one you get. It can never be just about that, there has to be more.”

So, it’s not the sheer number of songs, but the ways the service presents and uses those songs to give the user what they want—great music.

“One of the things we wanted with Apple Music was depth, said Cue. “We wanted you to be immersed in it when you started using it. Jimmy, Trent, myself, and others would go in a room—we argued a lot, we fought a lot, and we’re still doing it. We’re doing it on a few things we can change on this version.”

When I asked Cue how he would try to convince people that Apple Music was better than competing services, he said, “Ultimately, you can’t convince them, it’s just got to be better.”

Well said.

Curation in Apple Music

The whole concept of curation that made Beats playlists so popular is not only a part of Apple Music, it’s also a part of Apple Music Radio, as well.

Cue and Iovine explain that Apple Music Radio is hand programmed now. Curators choose the songs and how those songs relate to other songs. It’s not a playlist, but by doing the radio component of Apple Music like this, you can get songs from multiple genres coming together in a way that you wouldn’t have before.

Iovine said that when he hears an algorithm choose songs for a Bruce Springsteen channel, for example, he can pretty much guess what’s going to be played. Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty are always popular choices.

As he pointed out, most algorithms leave you stuck in an era, and stuck in a particular sound. However, Apple Music, Iovine argues, provides a much richer and broader range of music. He went back to the Springsteen example.

“What freaked me out is that Apple Music played ‘Paint It Black,’ which I happen to know is one of Springsteen’s favorite Stones songs,” said Iovine.

Jimmy said that he is constantly calling the curators with suggestions on how to make the service better. Obviously, he’s very familiar with many of the components of Apple Music because they came from Beats.

However, not everything can be done by hand.

“We’re trying to bring the best of both worlds,” said Cue. “You can’t do everything humanly curated, and you can’t do everything with algorithms. We have what we believe is the best of both.”

As part of the Apple Music launch, the Beats service will cease operation, but not right away.

“The Beats accounts will migrate. We won’t do that automatically, but we’ll have a Beats app update that will walk you through it,” said Cue. “Beats will continue to work for a few months while the migration happens.”

The good news is that all of the content you’ve collected using Beats will migrate over to Apple Music. That’s great news for Beats subscribers, like me, because I have some great playlists that I’ll want to keep.

Beats 1 Radio

Jimmy shocked me a bit when he said, “Radio is massive.” I considered radio to be like magazines—steadily going downhill for the last decade or so. However, Iovine said that 270 million people in America still listen to radio, adding jokingly, “I didn’t think there were that many people that had a radio.”

Cue and Iovine explained that the problem with radio was not the fact that people didn’t like it, but rather that too much advertising and radio station research into what songs were popular was flawed. Songs that weren’t popular right away were pulled, based on research, so you listen to the radio and hear the same songs all the time.

As Cue pointed out, Technology limited the ads, but it also eliminated the DJ, something many people enjoyed.

“As part of this ecosystem, what if there was a station that didn’t have any of those rules and didn’t serve any of those masters,” said Iovine. “What if it just took anything that was exciting, whether it be on Connect or a new record out of Brooklyn or Liverpool.”

“Or whether it was rock or hip hop,” added Cue.

So one of those genres could literally follow the other on Beats 1 Radio.

“It works,” said Iovine. “And it works because the DJ is in the middle explaining how it works. DJs give you context.”

So what does Beats 1 Radio compete with? Nothing, according to Iovine.

“It doesn’t compete with anything that’s out there because there’s never been anything like this,” said Iovine.

Measuring the success of Apple Music

Ultimately, Apple Music will be judged to be successful, or not. Jimmy’s definition of success was focused on the art of music.

“If it moves culture and helps move music forward. I think it’s going to be good for music,” said Iovine. “I had money, now I have more money. It can’t be about the money. Moving popular culture is so much more important than money—that’s what at stake here. I made Beats because I love what they [Apple] do. Everything I’ve done since 2003 has come from Apple. Everything.”

For Eddy Cue, one of Apple’s top executives, the customer experience is one of the top considerations.

“I know how we’ll will judge it, and we know how others will judge it. Obviously, over time others will judge it by the numbers, but that’s not the way we’ve ever judged our products. The numbers are the end result. The way we judge it is are people loving and having an experience with it that’s better than anything they thought was possible. If that’s the case, the numbers always come out in the end.”

  • Tom_P

    How about SIRI interaction?

    • Atlas

      That’s not really relevant to the subject, even if it’s about Apple Music.

      • Tom_P

        How’s that? One of the selling point of Apple Music is integration to the system, no? Many people will want to know how better SIRI handle music now.

        • Atlas

          Yes but this article isn’t a review Apple Music, it’s about the curation of the service.

          • Steve__S

            The article is largely about the Apple Music experience and everything related to that. Siri integration is a perfectly valid point. However, since this service will also be available on Android, they are not going to play up the Siri angle.

  • Atlas

    Funny that Iovine still says ‘they’ when referring to Apple.

  • I don’t agree with Iovine that “there’s never been anything like this.” What he’s describing sounds a lot like KSAN in San Francisco back in the day. It was trail-blazing free-form radio that wasn’t afraid to mix genres. I’m sure other places had similar stations. But they’re almost impossible to find any more. You certainly won’t find any commercial stations like that. I’m looking forward to Beats 1 Radio but I’m apprehensive that I’ll be too old and square to really love it.

    • He was talking about streaming services.

      As I read this stuff, I keep thinking about Tom Petty’s “The Last DJ” and how the music industry might just get a reversal of that terrible trend Petty was singing about.

    • Frank Petrie

      College music stations in the late 60’s and early 70’s is what it sounds more akin to.

      • Moeskido

        One hopes. Where that comparison’s concerned, I’m hoping Apple Music considers some avant-garde and underground for its service as well.

    • Moeskido

      You beat me to the punch. Even commercial rock radio mixed genres back when I started listening, and that was in the NYC market. Rock fans didn’t seem to feel a need to be protected from Motown, Funk, or a bunch of other categories that now have a Berlin Wall between them.

  • Great review. I still hope Apple will consider adopting MQA when it becomes more widely available. Tidal seems to be in trouble, and they’re the only streaming service promising to provide it. The benefit is higher resolution music but file sizes similar to MP3 and AAC of the current competitors.

  • Kris S

    “What if there was a station that didn’t have any of those rules and didn’t serve any of those masters”

    Clearly doesn’t live in Seattle then 😉

    • Yeah, when I read that question I immediately thought we know exactly what would happen if there was a station like that. It’s called “listener-supported radio” and it’s great. See also: But Iovine needs to be hyperbolic because Apple is spending a lot of money to roll out this new product.

    • Or KFJC or KZSU or KXLU or WFMU or any good college radio station that gives its DJs leeway. All of which stream to the Internet and have for years.

      So this particular bit of the interview strikes me as total BS. Not just hype, not just ignoring predecessors, but actively denying the existence of countless stations that already do this, and pretending they’ve somehow made up the idea of freeform radio. I’m really disappointed in them for that.

  • How is their curated radio offering different from DJ-curated stations from Songza, now Google and other similar products?

  • Moeskido

    Two very good reports, Mr. D.

  • GlennC777

    These guys are saying all the right things, and I haven’t been this excited about anything in music for a long time. The focus needs to be on bringing people quality – not just the music, but other artist content, the curation, the experience, the discovery capabilities – while respecting radically varying individual tastes, and hopefully expanding those tastes. I’m personally always looking for better ways to discover new music – after all, if I already know I like something, I probably already own it.

  • MishQus

    “It works,” said Iovine. “And it works because the DJ is in the middle explaining how it works. DJs give you context.”

    No, no nope no; no amount of DJing will get me to sit through Rich Homie Kwan, or others of his ilk. And I can’t stand Julie Adenuga for some reason. So far, I have switched off the station within 3-4 songs, it’s not for me.

  • Looks like customers of Beats Music will get a much smoother transition into Apple Music than customers of iTunes Radio. The stations I built in iTunes Radio have simply vanished without a warning. They live on (for now) on AppleTV. But my iPhone can’t see them. Neither can my Mac.