The Calm Before the Storm; Thoughts on and hopes for Music Before its Launch

Music is launching tomorrow! Are you excited? I am. I already offered my initial impressions immediately after it was announced at WWDC 2015 and those impressions have remained unchanged. But before it launches, I want to get some additional thoughts out there.

The Beats 1 Launch

Tomorrow, June 30th, 2015, Apple Music will launch and Beats 1 Radio will broadcast live to the world for the very first time. This will mark a unique period in the history of Apple’s company and brand. Never before has there been a time in which there was a direct, constant, dynamic, multifaceted, and globally – and publicly – accessible voice representing its brand. That all changes tomorrow.

A Most Momentous Occasion

As you may know, Beats 1 will be a 24/7 global radio station produced and hosted by Apple employees Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga. Do you know of any other time when Apple employees did something like this? Never before has the public had access to the voices of Apple employees in this way. The only similar outlet I can think of is either Apple’s website or the Twitter accounts or personal blogs of its employees. The differences here are obvious and significant. Beats 1 will eventually be baked into every iPhone, making it more easily accessible; it will constantly be changing, and it will quite literally be composed of real human voices. When thought of in this way, its announcement does deserve the “One More Thing…”*

After today, I will be able to connect with a voice of Apple in a way that was heretofore never possible, and that connection will, for better or worse – and like it or not – influence my perception of Apple. This is likely one of Apple’s goals with Beats 1. They know that music is an important part of our culture and that being associated with Beats 1, if all goes well, will add value to the perception of its brand.

These are the Voices of Beats 1. Ebro Darden, Julie Adenoma, and Zane Lowe.

These are the Voices of Beats 1. Ebro Darden, Julie Adenuga, and Zane Lowe.

The Critics So Far Are Just Plain Wrong

Many analysts are critical of Apple Music, saying things like: “Apple Music is toast because it doesn’t have a free tier,” “the messaging is unclear,” and “why is Apple even doing music?”** In the end, none of these comments are very significant or insightful, and they are just plain wrong. Apple music does contain a free tier. It’s called Beats 1 and iTunes radio, and Apple has already shown that people are willing to pay for a superior and integrated experience.

Furthermore, the messaging regarding Apple Music could not be more clear, as I already discussedSome people didn’t like the performances of Jimmy Iovine, Drake, or Eddy Cue during the Keynote and thought that their fumbling evinced an unfocused product. What they fail to understand is that each presenter of Apple Music (Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, Jimmy Iovine, and Drake) was aiming their talk at a different segment of the same audience. From what I’ve gathered, no one segment was completely satisifed by all of the speakers, but each speaker did satisfy at least one segment. Mission Accomplished.

Nevertheless, as its message is made today, mostly through the Apple Music microsite, the message is clear: Apple Music is a single product, one ecosystem around music, where artists big and small can create, cultivate, and sustain careers from their music.

As to why Apple is getting into music and whether or not they should, Neil Cybart of Above Avalon has already said it best, but it essentially boils down to Apple wanting to provide the best experience for the most important parts of our lives, content being one of them. Apple Music, TV, the News app, these are all parts of the same content strategy. Apple doesn’t need to control the content, just the experience of it; that is what they are good at.

The Message Is Clear

The Message Is Clear

What Success for Apple Music looks like?

The critics, so far, have added no real value to the discussion because they either don’t understand music and culture, or they don’t understand Apple. I understand both. I played in a touring band for 6 years and have been following Apple since 2004. I’m all about adding value to the discussion, which these critics really have not done, yet.

What is valuable to point out is what success for Apple Music will look like and how it can be achieved. As Benedict Evans and Jan Dawson have both described, winning for Apple doesn’t mean that they need to dominate the globe by reaching billions of monthly active users. For Apple to win, Android doesn’t need to lose. This is not a zero-sum game. There are enough people to go around. The platform war is over for now and Apple and Google have both won.

In the context of Apple Music, the competition does not need to lose for Apple to win. Success for Apple regarding Apple Music is providing a better experience for its users through the product. Success for Apple Music on its own is becoming and remaining a platform for artists to sustain careers through their music. Apple Music provides the tools for that ecosystem.

Hopes For Music: An Evolving Product

Going forward, it’s interesting to contemplate where Apple Music could and should go. If you go to Apple’s website right now and view the header, you will see that “Music” is listed next to “Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Watch.” Those are Apple’s main products and each is supported by a corresponding development platform: OS X, iOS, and watchOS. Apple Music is on par with those products from a marketing standpoint. It’s too early to see it now, but that is where Apple Music is heading from a product development standpoint.

Music is a product on the level with the rest of Apple's line up.

Music is a product on the level with the rest of Apple’s line up.

New Products and Services

First, the product offering can change and expand. Right now, the product offering is the Music app and membership consisting of the streaming service and iTunes, Beats 1 radio and iTunes radio, and Apple Music Connect. But where can the product go from here? Have you heard of the iTunes Festival in London? What if Apple placed more focus on that and integrated it into the product? Or what about Beats headphones? How can those be integrated more into the product? A beats branded whole home audio system would be cool, right? What else?

iTunes Festival in London has been a thing for a while now. Why London?

iTunes Festival in London has been a thing for a while now. Why London?

A Development Platform

Second, imagine if Apple opens up Apple Music to developers so that they can create extensions that can be used inside Apple Music. For example, one artist could have a concert listing extension so that fans can easily buy concert tickets through Apple Music using TouchID. That same artist could also have a merchandise extension.*** I’m not alone in this type of thinking. Additionally, imagine extensions running within the radio portion of Apple Music. For example, imagine running an extension of the iOS app, “djay” within your Apple Music jazz radio station so that each song is seamlessly transitioned from one to the next.

Imagine the possibilities of Music as a development platform through iOS 8's Extensibility

Imagine the possibilities of Music as a development platform through iOS 8’s Extensibility

Music + Soundcloud > Music

Lastly, I think that Apple Music needs to take a few cues from Soundcloud. Some people, myself included, think Apple should buy Soundcloud. Failing that, I hope for the following:

1) Sharing

I am so happy that there is a sharing component to Apple Music and I am really interested to see how it works. It looks like I will be able to easily share whatever song I am listening to with a friend and that they will easily be able to listen to it. The same applies to Connect content. That’s awesome! One of the things that was always frustrating about iTunes and the Music app is that music was only easily shareable though the iTunes store. That changed slightly with iTunes Radio and the ability to share radio stations, but all of this has always paled in comparison to the sharing and connecting capabilities of Soundcloud.

With Soundcloud, I can easily repost and share content and follow artists. I can even comment on a song and a specific part of a song at that! This is huge. I love listening to a song while I’m working and when the song really gets me going at a certain point I love to tell the artist. Do it!

2) Long form content

Apple Music Connect allows for the direct sharing of up to 90 minutes of audio (and Apple Music members can even save – whatever that means – this content). This is a great start! Maybe bump it to two hours, although most of the sets I listen to on Soundcloud are around 60 to 90 minutes. Bravo, Apple.

3) Uploading Direct

Why do artists need to go through a third party distributor like a label or a TuneCore anymore? Is this necessary? If Apple really wants to change the game, they need to take another cue from Soundcloud and just make it so that artists can upload their content directly to the iTunes Store without having to go through a middle man. In the old world, the “kid in their bedroom” was either made or laid by having to go through a label. In the new world, the “kid in their bedroom” doesn’t need a label; they just upload straight to Soundcloud. Do it!

Final Thoughts

What I am most interested in for the short term regarding Apple Music, though, is what the launch of Beats 1 will be like. We now know that Beats 1 will launch at 9 am, one hour after iOS 8.4 is made available for download. That’s not a lot of time! Will the first broadcast be truly live or will it be pre-recorded? We shall see. In any case, I am really excited about the launch. I actually want to throw a Beats 1 listening party tomorrow night to celebrate the occasion. Want to come? Need a reminder?


*Developing Perspective podcast towards the end

**Exponent podcast at around 10 minutes left

***Neil mentions this type of integration in Above Avalon podcast episode 2 during the last third. He never mentions Extensibility, but he does say “App Store moment.”