I’ve been incredibly inactive for the past few months, mainly due to other uni commitments. A poor excuse, I know, but I had to give my opinion on the “saviours of the music industry.”
After much speculation about a streaming service, Apple have finally unveiled their aptly named ‘Apple Music.’ That imaginative bunch also revealed what they were going to be doing with the Beats brand that they acquired; ‘Beats 1,’ a 24-hour radio station that will supposedly be entirely curated by expert DJ’s. Alongside their announcement, they released a video that’s hard to take seriously. In the video, Apple attempt to represent all ethnicities, showing how diverse and understanding they are of global cultures; they’ve even included the token ginger-loner-kid on the school bus. Bless. My biggest gripe though was something made apparent to me in a class discussion yesterday; do Apple expect us to believe that those guys sailing up the remote jungle river will have the money to buy their products, have mobile phone signal/access to internet data, and also the money to afford the Apple Music subscription? Furthermore, are Apple aware that, globally, they have an extremely small market share compared to Android? (see below). Admittedly, Apple are a somewhat aspirational brand; most celebrities (excluding Rita Ora) seem to own an iPhone, and the high price points seem to convince consumers that they’re incredibly high value products. Why, though, with such huge profit margins and brand awareness (mainly in the West) have Apple decided to enter the streaming market?
It seems odd that Apple have taken so long to enter the streaming market. As the company that were the first to introduce a platform for people to access digital downloads, it’s surprising that Apple didn’t attempt to compete as soon as platforms such as Spotify and Deezer surfaced. It seems likely now that they’ve arrived a little too late to make any real waves in the market; their service offers nothing particularly new (similar price points for subscriptions), and arguably people have become comfortable with the platforms they already use. Although Apple boasts an impressive 800 million iTunes accounts (plus all those users’ details), I can’t really see them convincing those customers to buy into their streaming service. That also begs the question; who are they marketing to? If they’re marketing to middle-aged people, they’ll only grab those who haven’t already downloaded Spotify, (who, by the way, revealed they now have 75 million active users). Tech-savvy young adults living in LA are probably already using some obscure 4D music consumption app, and teens are, more-than-likely, using YouTube to MP3 software or Torrent sites. It’s unlikely that Apple Music will see a massive uptake past the free trial period, unless they pull an Amazon and don’t tell you you’re actually paying for something you didn’t know about.
Let’s talk about Beats 1 now. A 24-hour radio service that won’t rely on algorithms, but ‘expert DJ’s,’ including the (now American) Zane Lowe. So instead of algorithms analysing the charts and telling radio shows what to play us, these DJ’s will analyse the charts (and possibly music blogs) and tell us what to listen to. Which they’ve been doing for decades. Is anyone going to want to listen to a radio show that, according to Apple’s diverse and cultured Beats 1 video, will encapsulate all the sounds of the world? If you like EDM, are you going to want to hear a piece of music created by an African tribe? Probably not. If you’re a fan of death metal, are you going to want to be interrupted mid-headbang by Mr Lowe introducing Taylor Swift’s latest hit? I can’t see it. Of course I’m making broad generalisations here, and wildly speculating, but my main point is that most people have their own preferences, and don’t like being herded into a room and having unfamiliar music blasted at them. People should also be cautious though when looking at Beats 1. Is Apple trying to take over radio completely? If cars continue adopting digital applications and features, such as an integrated Spotify system, Apple could follow the same practice and try to introduce Beats 1 into every car in the future. It may sound a bit sci-fi, but who knows what’s in the heads of visionaries like Tim Cook? Domination of radio is somewhat immoral, because it could shrink the market of successful musicians; if there’s only one radio station playing only what the DJ’s like, what chance is there for new musicians to be heard?
Finally, it’s important to look to the future of the music industry. Some speculate that there is no future, which is a horrifying prospect for somebody just looking to enter it. There is a future, I believe, but it’s one that will be vastly different from what it is now. Of course, physical sales have been declining for years (I’m so bored of saying that), and digital downloads have started falling recently. Streaming may be one of the models that stabilises the industry, whilst new revenue streams are exploited, and current areas (such as the live sector) continue to grow. This is Apple’s main problem though; if they were really about saving the music industry and helping artists through this transitional period, surely they’d want to pay them some royalties? It’s been reported that Apple are planning to pay 0% royalties to artists through free trials, and only 58% from subscription revenues. Spotify currently pay out 70%, and although they’re not perfect, I’d rather put my faith in them. Freemium, I feel, is not a good thing for the industry, but neither is trying to dominate a music market when all you care about is selling overpriced hardware to a global market share of 18%. As someone who cares about the rights of musicians and artists worldwide, it pains me to see businesses giving such disregard for those who create art.