Apple Music hits 20 million subscribers by focusing on Hip-Hop

In an interview with Billboard today, Apple’s Eddy Cue revealed that Apple Music has surpassed 20 million paid subscribers. There are a few other tidbits of info in the article as well.

And despite a mandate from Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge, exclusives will continue in the near future “where appropriate,” adds Cue. “They work really well for everybody concerned — they’re great for the label, they work for the artist and for us.”

Exclusives drive numbers and a subscription service is all about churning people, hopefully adding more in the top than those falling out the bottom. Apple is perfecting it.

“We’ve always thought that hip-hop was underrepresented both in iTunes and in the streaming chart. And more people listen to hip-hop now than ever before so we’ve done a lot of work in that area.”

I’ve said this since the launch of Apple Music, but it seems very clear now. “Music” is no longer in Apple’s DNA—hip-hop is what’s important to Apple. Again, it’s a numbers game. More people are listening to that genre than ever before, so Apple can leave the Rock/Blues/Metal acts to another service and still add subscribers using hip-hop exclusives. It’s actually refreshing to see Apple finally admit it.

People like me with an existing music library that rely on the often non-working iTunes Match are no longer Apple’s market. I even opened up a second Apple Music account to see if iTunes Match would work—it didn’t.

In a lot of ways it makes perfect sense that Apple is building a music service that doesn’t require a music library—there’s less hassle and they don’t have to rely on services like iTunes Match to please those customers. Apple is catering to those customers very well. However, it’s a shame they don’t care about the rest of us any more.

What Apple will recognize is that the people they attract with exclusives will go to the next music service that has an exclusive without blinking an eye or without any loyalty to Apple. By that time, the base of users that they’ve relied on for years will also be gone.

And the churn continues.

Update:

I feel compelled to write an update because there seems to be some confusion over what I wrote last night.

I’m not saying that Hip-Hop is not music or isn’t an important genre of music—it is. In fact, it’s probably the largest music genre in the business today. What I’m saying is that Apple is focusing its entire service on that one genre.

If I go to the “Browse” section of Apple Music on any given day, the majority of what I see is only Hip-Hop. That’s not Apple having music in its DNA, that’s focusing on the churn of music subscribers—that’s a totally different thing than loving all types of music.

More importantly, pieces of Apple Music still don’t work like Apple said they would. One of the great promises of Apple Music was being able to bring your existing music library to the service and it would know what songs you have. When I look at an album on Apple Music that I already own, it often says that I don’t have it—how can that happen if iTunes Match is working the way it should?

How is it that I can play a radio station, rate a song that’s it’s playing from my library and the rating disappears immediately?

How can I tap play on an Apple Music song and it plays a completely different version of the song?

Why doesn’t my iCloud Music Library on my Mac update every day with the songs I played in the last 24 hours when it’s supposed to?

When the iCloud Music Library does update, why doesn’t it include songs from radio stations that I played, even though those songs are in my library?

How can I dislike songs and albums and they continue to show up in my For You section?

My issue is not that Apple is focused on Hip-Hop, it’s that they are only focused on Hip-Hop to the detriment of the other issues. They need to fix the service and focus on their love of all music, not how many subscribers they have.

Apple was always about building the best product and people would come. Apple Music doesn’t seem like that to me.



  • Joe Blow

    Ahahaha it’s amazing how butt-hurt you sound.

    ““Music” is no longer in Apple’s DNA—hip-hop is what’s important to Apple.”

    Implying hip-hop isn’t music. Beautiful. I’ll give you a minute to name the music service targeted at middle-aged white men.

    Fortunately Apple is smart enough to know not to become the brand of old white men.

    • rick gregory

      I read that differently than you. I read it as “A broad commitment to a wider variety of music” is no longer in Apple’s DNA…

      We’ll see. I think any of the services are just fine for most musical tastes. I don’t care what’s charting and haven’t for years. I’m not into that. But I value a wide variety of stuff… and I can find that on Apple Music as well as Spotify.

      People like Jim who have huge collections of the kind of music they love… I’m not sure those folks are the target for any streaming service. After all, IIRC Jim has something like 50,000 tracks. You can’t listen to all of that in a year. Ok, you CAN. If you listen 12 hours a day, every day. But come on…

      • Kip Beatty

        Rick,

        So what exactly is the complaint? I read it the way Joe did, middle aged white man unhappy with all the promotion of this darn kids music. If it were the 60’s, he’d be up in arms over The Beatles or the Stones. It also comes across as more than a little racist. Hip Hop isn’t music? Wow.

        As far as I can tell, Apple hasn’t removed or cut any music from the service. They are heavily promoting the most popular music and the most popular artists in order to sell the service. And, by the way, it’s not even close. Hip Hop is more popular today than Rock was in its heyday. That’s simply common sense. Yet, I can still find all the rock, classic rock, alt rock, etc. I want even if the front page features Drake (who I happen to like FWIW).

        So I’m unsure of the complaint other than to assume Joe Blow has the right take.

        • Mo

          Looks to me as though he’s unhappy with a stated narrower focus on one genre as compared to all genres.

          • Kip Beatty

            Specifically hip hop which he suggests is not music. Funny, I don’t remember the same complaints when they were rolling out U2 and John Mayer at every freakin’ event.

          • The narrower focus is partially his perception. I think the reality is Apple is focusing on popular music and hip-hop just happens to make up the majority of that at the moment.

            If some rock band has the breakout hit of 2017 I do not think Apple would at all hesitate to sign them up for an exclusive on the next album in 2018.

          • how is AM having a “narrower focus”? it’s all there. i have no trouble finding my niches. i just ignore hip hop.

          • Mo

            Whether they are or aren’t, Jim D apparently feels they are.

        • rick gregory

          I guess I don’t take from Jim’s comment that “Hip Hop isn’t music” but that by focusing on it because it’s what’s hot, Apple has moved from being in love with music in general to promoting music because it brings in customers and thus dollars.

          The underlying assumption is that Apple execs loved music back in the day and those the iPod was important to them not only because it made money but because it made it easier to carry your music with you and listen to it where you wanted to… and that now it’s just one more lever to pull in the pursuit of market share and dollars. I don’t know that I agree with him about that, but that’s the way I think he meant it and it’s a bit over the top to first misinterpret his words and then accuse him of racism due to your interpretation.

          On the issue of how MUCH music is on Apple Music – fully, 100% agree as I just commented in the counterpoint post and I agree with you reason about why they’re promoting hip hop. I personally don’t give a crap about the charts or exclusives because I’m not a hip hop fan (nor a Taylor Swift etc fan). The only reason I care about that at all is that it can get in the way of new users who aren’t into the charts… The UI should make it easy to find what you love, not just what Apple wants to promote.

          • Kip Beatty

            Fair enough, and although I didn’t read it that way I can see how it could be. But as I mentioned in another post, I don’t recall the same complaints when Apple was rolling out U2, John Mayer, and other white Artists of a similar style at every event to promote iTunes. The issue seems to be Hip Hop specifically.

          • Mo

            There were complaints. But among those for whom those rock/pop artists were of no interest, they were spending their music money elsewhere.

          • Yes, I heard plenty of complaints about them, as well as any other artist Apple happens to bring on stage or otherwise promote. There was lots of snark/complaining going around about the artist at the last big streamed event. (Yes, I already forgot her name, even though I was personally intrigued.)

          • Mo

            “Tony Bennett???!! This is an outrage!”

            I liked what she did, once I checked out the lyrics and listened to the work again. It was a bit deeper than “four guitars, no waiting.”

    • rogifan

      He’s right. Apple is just looking for street cred with a certain demographic. That’s the whole reason they purchased Beats.

      • yes rogifan — that and the massive, massive profit Beats makes from the most popular accessories ever sold in an apple store. designed by ex apple people. oh yeah. oops. you forgot that part while focusing on black.

        ironic considering your avatar.

    • Vera Comment

      isn’t the pono thing targeted at just that demographic?

      and..

      oh, nevermind.

      UNDER CONSTRUCTION Progress continues to move the PonoMusic store to a new content partner.

  • Dave Wood

    “However, it’s a shame they don’t care about the rest of us any more. … By that time, the base of users that they’ve relied on for years will also be gone.” <- This very accurately describes Apple as a whole right now. More and more every decision they make seems to be about targeting a new type of user, at the cost of their existing users. The new MBP’s are a perfect example. And when Pro’s move on to other platforms, Android/Microsoft/etc, they’ll take the users they’ve spent the last 15-20 years bringing to Apple.

    • Indeed, there does seem to be a troubling pattern here.

    • StruckPaper

      We have been hearing this meme since Jobs’s return, if not from the beginning of Apple. And the beat goes on.

    • Kip Beatty

      Good lord, it’s like reading a bunch of grumpy Trump voters bitching about how the colored people are ruining music. Apple Music isn’t focused on “Hip Hop”. They heavily promote “pop” music, as in the most POPULAR music. That’s what sells new subscriptions to the service and today Hip Hop is far and away the most popular. If it were the 80s’ or early 90’s, it’d be rock or Michael Jackson. My wife loves hip-hop and is a huge fan of the artists Apple promotes.

      I myself like hip-hop quite a bit, but generally prefer alt rock and rock. I’ve yet to have any issue finding and listening to all the music I like on the service. Just because it’s not the music on the front page or the artists featured in the ads it doesn’t mean it’s gone.

      How exactly did they “stop caring about you” with Apple Music? What did they remove that you liked?

    • it’s all in your heads, jesus f’ing christ. the apple faithful are now old and angry, so you bitch online. grow up. mac is a stagnating platform, mobile isn’t. deal.

      and as a pro, the new MBP is an amazing machine, and will replace my previous MBP when the time comes. why in gods name wouldn’t it? because of USBC? get real!!

    • fastasleep

      How does the new MBP target a new type of user at the cost of their existing users? Wait wait don’t tell me — “not a pro machine” “no ports” “too thin” etc etc. All lies.

    • Dave Wood

      To be clear, I like the USB-C ports. The main problems with the new machines are lack of RAM (arguably not Apple’s fault), lack of the number of ports (4 vs my current MBP that has 10 [including the power]), and CPU/GPU power. The thinness of the machine means the focus is for portability. Pro’s don’t need portability, they need power. The new MBP’s are great for expandability, but as you expand it, it becomes less portable so the two goals are at odds with each other. Releasing updated desktops, iMac, Mac Pro and Mac Mini’s would have solved most of these issues. Then the MBP’s could be targeted to power users that need portability, and the desktops target the pros that work at their desks all day. And pro’s that want power and portability, use two machines, a desktop for the power, and the laptop for portability that syncs/connects to the desktop when needed. If I needed to buy a new machine right now, I’d be out of luck, since these new MBP’s are a downgrade from my current 2 year old 5K-iMac.

  • RoC

    Apple has always been good at following things, and finding something that hits the POPular trends. This is no different. This in normal now. As they have employed people who have made a living making hiphop and playing hiphop on the radio this is not surprising to me at all. Apple are Normal, and to quite a dead famous rock star, “without deviation for the normal, progress is not possible”.

  • David Zentgraf

    This fits in surprisingly well with my feelings: I find Beats 1 and most of the highly featured playlists to be unlistenable. And it’s not like I dislike Hip-Hop in general, but what is currently going through the top charts as Hip-Hop is somewhere completely out of my range of taste.

    However, “New for You”, related artists, artist stations and other ways to expand my horizon inch by inch based on stuff I already like still works pretty well for me.

    • Vera Comment

      WTF Are you looking at top charts for? Apple doesn’t make those up, those are just reflections of the radio (total crap, imo)

      It’s no surpise that Beats1 is going to be mostly a reflection of the top 100 songs dujour.. so like you, I just scroll down a bit to genre specific stations and my ignorance of the top 100 continues.

      I also find that the playlists are better than those of Pandora and Spotify (but Apple has an advantage because they know what I have).

  • James Hughes

    “I even opened up a second Apple Music account to see if iTunes Match would work—it didn’t.”

    It sounds like the service still isn’t working properly. I doubt that Apple is intentionally crippling it. That is what you are implying here, isn’t it?

  • Caleb Hightower

    I’m a heavy classical music listener and wish Apple would give this genre more attention, but I can’t make Millennials (representing the largest demographic since the Baby Boomers) appreciate it any more than Apple can. Apple will follow the herd on this one, because Millennials are a force to reckoned with.

  • lkalliance

    Music plays a very tiny part of my life, but I DO devote a small amount of my phone use to it. I not only feel like spending a few bucks a month is a few bucks a month too much, I never even got into iTunes Match. I’m still one of those that does music the “old fashioned way.” One at a time, track by track, from the iTunes Store to my hard drive to my phone. It’s been building for a while now, but I currently feel like the stereotypical old man, who needs to have the benefits of tech explained to him.

  • David Stewart

    I think it makes a lot of sense to focus on solving the music issue one genre at a time. Each genre has its own listeners who value different things. The hip-hop genre is one that is less encumbered by history and more lucrative currently, so is an obvious choice.

    • I think Apple is a big enough company that they could try to solve more than one genre at a time…

      • David Stewart

        They could, but it’s more efficient to have a single team working on the initial discovery and iteration and then branch out once things are more settled.

  • What successful rock act is not available on Apple Music?

    • jfutral

      Define “successful”. That is quite the qualifier you have chosen.

      eta: Also, why do you think the author is only talking about “rock”?

      Joe

      • uhhh because he’s a rock fan? mebbe?

      • I can see how that comment could be seen as a little loaded and opinionated, but I was thinking of the author of the post’s taste. He seems to like hard rock and a lot of bands that were successful in the past.

        So, what act is not available on Apple Music that should? And what resources should Apple be using to chased these artists down and promote them? This is all rhetorical. I don’t have this problem, but I am curious to hear how people that do listen to obscure, hard to find find music think Apple can change that.

        • jfutral

          His taste may be rock, but I don’t think he is referring to just his taste or rock, else the post wouldn’t be addressing something wider than he seems to think (he does say “Music” is no longer in their DNA, not, “Rock” is no longer in their DNA. I know Kirk McElhearn often laments their classical music selection. While I love pretty much all music (except smooth jazz which is from the devil) I tried Apple Music long enough to find they have a vary shallow selection of jazz and prog rock. So I dropped it and just rely on my personal library anymore. Now some of that shallowness could just as easily be the fault of the rights holders as much as anything, I don’t know. I also never needed Apple Match, so I never bothered.

          Joe

          • I guess I don’t see how this is a uniquely Apple issue not how mainstream music marketing is why iTunes match broke. It makes it sounds like it is taking engineers to land the latest Drake mixtape. I would probably be upset to see what a southern US Walmart is promoting as music, but I’m sure there is money in country CDs in some places. I can see being frustrated, but is always frustrated to be on the fringes of pop culture. Tidal and Spotify are in the same boat because that must be where the money is.

            It still sounds a lot like Make Music Great Again when there is always politics and race behind the scenes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IQTnYGu3rw

          • jfutral

            I agree with you. But I do see the point in the irony that a company that says they love Music is focusing on the popular trends, more Barnes and Noble-like and less the cultural alt-like (not the new rebranding of alt, but the traditional alt-culture definition) that used to be associated with Apple.

            Joe

  • jfutral

    I think you are correct that it is a numbers game. But isn’t that always the case? Why aren’t the rock/blues/metal/classical/jazz/bluegrass/etc, users building Apple Music? Is it because they are better served elsewhere? Do they generally just not bother with streaming in general? Or are they just not that big a market? Is it really only because Apple isn’t focusing on them? I guess the question is a bit of the chicken or the egg. Which is the cause and which is the effect?

    Joe

  • I don’t think I’ve ever had iTunes Match go down on me, and certainly not long enough that I really noticed.

    • Mo

      Sounds like fun.

  • Hieronymus Washington

    That headline is so misleading it is worthy of a Forbes or Business Insider post. Finding a genre is underrepresented and deciding to work on it is not nearly the same as focusing on it.

    In other news, Old Man Dalrymple yells “Hey you hip hopping kids get off my lawn”

    • seriously. this is embarrassing and pathetic.

  • Kyle Heironimus

    This reflects my thoughts very well. I’m so tired of opening up iTunes and being recommended a bunch of music it’s very clear I’m not interested in. Apple knows more about my musical tastes than I do, but they keep pushing the latest chart-topper (Hip-Hop or otherwise) on me instead of something I’m more interested in. I’m sure the strategy works and appealing to young listeners is much more profitable that people like me, but it is sad. Understandable, but sad.

    • never happened. AM recommends based on your survey and music, not based on top charts.

  • Kira Kinski

    No doubt Hip Hop artists blow away older bands such as The Beatles.

  • “Music” is no longer in Apple’s DNA—hip-hop is what’s important to Apple.

    hmmm yeah apple didn’t say that at all, but thanks for your ignorant opinion of what they think.

    look — i listen to techno and electronica and industrial. and do you know what AM suggests for me in my weekly playlists? techno, electronica, and industrial. and do you k ow what radio stations i listen to? the same. what albums i download? yep, also the same. so i don’t know what your problem is with a genre you’re not interested in.

    AM is many things to many people.

  • bradpdx

    I’ve been using Apple Music since its introduction. I was already a user of iTunes Match, which has always worked perfectly for me with a modest library of about 22K songs. I have no idea why Jim’s setup doesn’t work, my own library is full of quirky material and it all syncs.

    I am a 58-year-old music fan, definitely not the demographic for Hip-Hop & Rap. But I am neither surprised nor offended when I see that artists from those genres are heavily promoted – it is the most popular music of our time, no matter what I think of it. A fellow my age in 1963 would have been cursing about the Beatles, but I’m not going to do the same thing to Hip-Hop. I just don’t understand most of it, and that’s on me.

    That said, I have no problem finding the stuff to love on Apple Music. The My Favorites and My New Music mixes are nearly always entertaining and occasionally insightful. I can dig into any genre and find new releases in Rock, Americana, Singer/Songwriter, no problem. I can easily share songs and albums with family members – including an 18-year-old daughter who inexplicably loves Billy Joel.

    In other words, I don’t see the problem that Jim sees. If it’s metal you want, it’s certainly there, pretty much exactly the same artists that are on Spotify, etc. Just because there is Hip-Hop on the front page doesn’t mean it’s the only thing they’ve got.

  • Simon Keating

    I do not often venture into the “Browse” tab, rather I am most often tucked into the “For You” tab. It raises most of new artists and playlists that meet my tastes: Sonic Youth, Pixies, Bon Iver representing today.

    I have an extensive library but it has dematerialized given my ability to simply pick what I want at the moment I want it.

    Apple has made a transition in roles from “Think Different” to trendsetter. Traditional Apple customers are also pushed to the margins as long term products are supplanted based upon revenue.

    I see a bit of a straw man in your argument that Rap & licensing deals are the reason software and services do not work as expected. Both are essential to creating a successful music streaming product. I guess you can make the case that Apple is letting quality slip in software because management over-emphasizes licensing as the foundation of the service.

    Apple Music is not perfect by any means. I ditched iTunes Match for many of the reasons you mentioned. Overall though, it streams what I want where I want it while giving me access to much more music that I would otherwise have.

  • Alejandro Lozada

    I agree Jim. iTunes Match still doesn’t work as advertised, and albums I own show up as not purchased, or mutilated for reasons unknown.

    I’ve had much better luck with the ‘For You’ section showing me more of what I like (Rock, Alternative Rock from the late 70s) and less of Urban / Hip Hop.

  • wiredfractal

    My iTunes Match is up for renewal in a few weeks and it makes me re-think about renewing it. It has made a total mess of my library ever since they introduced AM. My purchased songs plays a different song, some are lost that I needed to find an Mac with an optical drive to re-rip tracks that are lost. AM recommeding me playlist with songs already in my library but needed to re-sync again. Been contacting Apple Support numerous times, but they couldn’t figure out what’s wrong with my library. I’ve had rebuild numerous times by turning off/on iCloud Music library and I also tried deleting my entire library and re-downlading everything again thru iTunes Match. But my library is still a mess two years and counting.

    • fastasleep
      I needed to find an Mac with an optical drive to re-rip tracks that are lost

      Or just buy a USB optical drive on Amazon for $10.

      You realize by deleting your entire local library, you lost all of your original album rips? AM only downloads “their” copy of matched tunes to devices that don’t have the original rip it sourced the match from. You deleted your own data and then downloaded all theirs, AM didn’t do that to you.

      • wiredfractal

        I’m using iTunes Match which btw copies your local library to iCloud. That means I can just delete my library and then re-download everything from iTunes Match. That is its function.

        Also, I’m from the Philippines. Ordering from Amazon will take me 2 months (our custom is slow) and will probably pay twice as much for shipping and will pay another 60% just for tax that includes shipping. That $10 will cost me around $40 and wait for 2-3 months just to rip a few CDs lost.

        I talked to an iTunes Specialist and was told that he had the same problem when AM was just starting and they were not able to sort out the problem. AM now matches the same feature as iTunes Match but it won’t upload any of your own ripped tracks or music that is not available on AM. Back then it does not. iTunes still doesn’t have a way to control which feature will use when downloading an available song in your library. AM and iMatch will have conflicts all the time. I still use iTunes Match because I have so many songs that is not available on AM (Japanese soundtracks, OOP albums, Tool, some music from my country, etc.) and I want to be able to stream them on all my devices.

        • fastasleep

          Yeah but it only uploads those files which didn’t find a match to the iTunes Store. Everything else, you’re downloading the iTunes Store version of the track, not your original rip. And if it mismatches something, and you delete your local copy, that original song is gone and all you can download is the mismatched song/version/etc. Obviously if ordering from Amazon is not realistic substitute Amazon with wherever is practical in your country to purchase from.

  • fastasleep
    I’m not saying that Hip-Hop is not music or isn’t an important genre of music—it is. In fact, it’s probably the largest music genre in the business today. What I’m saying is that Apple is focusing its entire service on that one genre.

    Except that’s exactly what you said, then further implied that real music is somehow limited to “Rock/Blues/Metal”. They do not focus their entire service on that one genre, that’s ridiculous. There is a TON of pop, R&B, electronic in many forms, alongside hip-hop and rap — I’m not sure you know the difference between these genres. I don’t find a lot of the experimental and obscure stuff that I often listen to on those charts, but I wouldn’t expect them their either — they’re easily found elsewhere on the service. I’m happy to be exposed to new popular music, even if I don’t like every bit of it. Stuff like Frank Ocean (who I enjoy) is featured there for a reason, not just because he’s SUPER popular but it’s also really really GOOD. You live in your dinosaur rock bubble and don’t seem to venture much outside of that, so I’m sure the entirety of the featured/top charts look like kids on your lawn to you.

  • Guy

    Why does Apple hate folk music? Few of the musicians I listen to are available from Apple. There isn’t even a genre called folk music to search on (last time I looked). It is all well and good to focus on popular music, but there is a whole world out there of alternative kinds of music.

    • bradpdx

      I feel your pain. Folk artists usually get lumped in with the “Singer/Songwriter” genre on AM, but they are there. Many folk artists are on small labels with little presence on any streaming service, it’s not Apple’s problem per se.

      • Guy

        A lot of the people I like are on Apple Music. At least acknowledge that folk music exists…. Pandora does! Why can’t Apple?

  • For what it’s worth, my wife and I listen to mostly progressive rock music (and things kind of lumped in because they are a bit eclectic). She is always finding new-to-us artists and albums via the For You tab. So, works for us just fine. Anecdotes are fun.

  • jfutral

    Great update.

    Joe