Apple Music, Jimmy Iovine and the Power of Curation
Earlier this month, Apple Music was announced.
One of the features included is this thing called Beats 1 radio. It’s internet radio except with real humans (remember them?)— talking, playing music and doing things that terrestrial radio jocks do.
The general consensus on this feature was—huh? This is 2015. Who the hell cares what Zane Lowe, a forty-something white guy from the UK, thinks about music. Who cares what anyone not named ‘you’ thinks about music?
Internet radio, whether through an app or on your desktop, is not a new idea, and in a nutshell, the entire rise of the internet can be boiled down to this?—?getting away from these assholes. And now we’re suppose to go back to that? Get real.
In an interview with Billboard, Jimmy Iovine said:
What’s gone on in the last 15 years in radio is that it’s really become manufactured. It’s either genre-based or beat-driven or research-driven. So I said, let’s build something that’s got none of that that just plays music because it’s great.
Jimmy is right. Radio is awful. There are 4 terrible songs an hour and twenty minutes of commercials. Radio isn’t for music, it’s for advertisers.
Needless to say, alternatives already exist. YouTube. Pandora. Satellite radio. Apps like TuneIn can give you almost every radio station on earth. Playlists on Spotify, Tidal and Prime Music. Mixcloud. Soundcloud. Dash Radio. If you want to hear good music, you’re not going to struggle to hear it. You don’t need to pay $9.99 to have Zane Lowe tell you what’s hot?—?you already know.
Or do you? The opinionated among us take knowledge for granted. You have Google at your fingertips, therefore you must know everything! But there’s more content being generated now than anyone can possibly keep up with, and music has a major problem?—?the good filters are gone.
It wasn’t always like this. There was once radio and record stores and magazines and for a time, music blogs. Yes, briefly, we turned off the radio and tuned in to websites where passionate fans endlessly sifted through trash to find hidden treasures. But then that business got commodified, the government came swooping down on file-sharing, and the influence of bloggers waned.
In the wake of their demise, the uninformed among us turned our attention to streaming services. Sure, an odd mix of humans with algorithms can occasionally help us find a record we like, but discerning music fans still don’t have a better turnkey solution for hearing great music than just turning on the actual radio. Most streaming service playlists are unimpressive, and so are their algorithms. The ‘skip’ button has never been more popular.
Streaming on its own?—?without radio?—?is not a complete failure, though. Perhaps more important than what a booming voice in the sky is telling you, you can see what your friends are into, and you can make your own playlists. Because after all, the power of having all this music in front of you is that you, too, can be Zane Lowe, without having to actually like, be Zane Lowe.
But that’s assuming, again, that you even know what you’re supposed to be listening to. The average person certainly knows enough classic rock, Motown and hits from the 90’s/2000’s to get by, but at a certain point, they’re lost. They’re not at a fork in the road. They’re at a million forks in the road. Behind the wheel of a Tesla.
So, the curated listening experience is a tough nut to crack. Nobody has really done it well online at mass. And the thing about listening is, it shouldn’t be work. It should be easy. That’s why the greatest DJ’s are who they are?—?they know their listeners, can read their energy and know what to play next. There is an intimacy there, a familiarity. That relationship has value and throughout history it’s proven to have worked well.
But ultimately, radio is really simple?—?shut and play the hits. In a world where it’s gotten harder and harder to find the hits, is that worth paying for? I think so. But you tell me.