We need to talk about Apple Music. It's gonna be huge.
For those of us who were introduced to digital music in the early 2000s, one brand stands out as revolutionizing the way we consume, sort, and listen to our music on-the-go: Apple. When iTunes and the iPod entered the marketplace, people who were struggling to figure out how to transition between the physical world of CDs and the (at times still sketchy) digital downloading world (RIP, Napster, Kazaa, and LimeWire) finally had an easy-to-work fix. Apple became the big digital music gatekeeper by virtue of its technology. And we’ve been so thankful for it. But now, the iconic company is expanding beyond downloads to the now competitive world of digital streaming. According to an announcement made Monday at the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple Music (a reworked Beats Music), is poised to take on Spotify and Tidal starting June 8.
To go back in time a bit, even as Internet radio took off, iTunes was still the center of many peoples’ 21st century music lives — online radio wouldn’t let you “save” new favorites or store old favorites, so we’d head to iTunes and make song purchases. But with Spotify, which became part of the dominant conversation after it expanded to the U.S. in 2011, music streaming quickly became the music listening form of choice: It provided all the functionality and access of digital downloads, but without being tethered to those actual downloads (or necessarily having to pay for them). Sure, there were ads (which seemed to get progressively more annoying as time went on), but they were the necessary cost of paying nothing. Today, Apple still dominates the digital download market (about 85% of all paid downloads go through the iTunes Store), but that market is waning, while streaming is on the ascent. Spotify is clearly the streaming platform of choice: 86% of all streams go through the app.
However, amid it’s glory Spotify has a weak spot: Its much-maligned artist payouts. While labels were the ones licensing such music, artists bemoaned their streaming royalties. Superstars like Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke took their music off the app, while indie band Vulpeck gamed the system by releasing an album of silence. Weird pop icon Björk, whose other albums are on Spotify, decided to keep her latest off the app, saying:
Enter: Tidal. But despite the star power behind it (Taylor Swift! “Feeling Myself”!), the paid service hasn’t really been able to break out. And now, Apple Music is entering the fold. So, what makes Apple Music different from its competitors?
Like Tidal and unlike Spotify, Apple Music will be a paid subscription only model, though it’ll probably be offering users a free trial period. As for the payment: It’ll cost $10 a month — compare that to Tidal’s two tiers of paid service ($9.99 and $19.99) and Spotify Premium ($9.99). Also like Tidal, Apple Music will rely on its celebrity draw to get users to choose them; cofounders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will be pulling from their considerable Beats headphones audience, and they’ll also have celebrity DJs like, reportedly, Drake, Pharrell, and David Guetta help promote the service on iTunes Radio. As for the look and feel of Apple Music, expect it to look like the current version of iTunes, but its content will be like “the best of Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube.”
Whew! If you got lost in all of this, it’s OK — we didn’t know what to make of Tidal until it launched, either. But for all the clamoring about streaming, there hasn’t really been any proof that it’s actually as profitable as either labels, service owners, or, more importantly, artists wish it would be. For artists and listeners, there are more places than ever to access music. But as writer Eric Harvey put it in Pitchfork’s monster feature on the future of music streaming,
Apple Music adds to that middle ground; as for whether it’ll deliver anything new for either the artists it hopes to support or the listeners it hopes to lure away from competing services, we’ll have to wait until June 8 to find out.