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.”
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.”