Let me start this by saying that I want Apple Music to work. I really, really do. A streaming service built by a company that essentially owes it's standing as #1 in the world to music fans feels like it should be something to get excited about. Apple saved us from the dark and scary depths of illegal downloading, and made a "single" more than something you heard on the radio, and it didn't have to be seven inches wide. Apple re-imagined the world of mobile listening, and created the first line of products that made mobile listening, let alone music streaming feasible to begin with. Apple got us to the point where we can argue about streaming services and their pay rates and what's the best for us all, and at the end of the day, I'm hoping that Apple Music can be the thing that makes these debates a non-issue. I want them to be the good guys. But there are certain things that I feel need to happen in order for that to come true.
1) Don't be Beats Music with an Apple logo slapped on top
In case you missed my review of Beats Music here on my blog when it first launched, there were plenty of thins about the service I wasn't loving. The curation felt entirely robotic, and the playlists offered up to you were felt basic. I told Beats Music that I was a massive fan of Jimmy Eat World, so their app continuously offered me the "Jimmy Eat World hits" playlist on my "Just For You" page, not even "Deep Cuts" - an obviously unnecessary listen for anyone who took the time to tell the app that they were one of your top artists. Although Beats Music allowed you to "follow" fellow users, you weren't able to see what they were listening to, rather you were only granted access to view their profile and any playlists they took the time to make. Even taking the time to "like" a Beats "Genre Channel" or artist didn't seem to generate much additional curated content. Yes, Beats allowed you to stream music, and sure, they had a decent selection upon launch, but what makes me choose to use a streaming service over my own library is not necessarily the access to unlimited music, but rather, how it's presented to me.
2) Successful, Deep, Personal Content Curation
Like I said, my choice in using a streaming service is not necessarily all about my easy access to an unlimited music. Sure - that's the initial draw. You can listen to anything you want? No more buying albums? Incredible! But many users have said that after their initial dive into a streaming community, they become "overwhelmed" by the sheer volume of choices (something now referred to as "Choice Paralysis"), and actually tend to stick with the same albums they're already familiar with rather than continuing to explore new media. That is why successful and personalized content curation is so necessary for a streaming service to succeed. Like I said, Beats tried to curate content for me, but their content - although it was promised to be curated by thought leaders in the musical community - still felt too broad and impersonal for me to feel any benefit from their offerings.
Spotify easily has won me over in this category, and maybe not for the reasons you'd think. Do I want more generic, top-hit playlists for things like New Years Eve celebrations with friends, or backyard parties? Yes. Yes I do. I need those generic, all-appealing Top-40 hit riddled playlists for those moments in my life, and Spotify's team does an excellent job of making those easily accessible....but so did Beats, and so will Apple Music. The thing many folks who don't frequent Spotify tend to miss is the incredible wealth of both staff-made and user-made playlists that are tracked by a well executed algorithm, not produced by them. The difference really does lie in that personal touch.
Do I need to see an acoustic set from Alabama Shakes? Or watch Dan from Bastille talk about this 10 second riff they just finished in the studio? Nah, not really. I have Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, and 1 million other apps/sites to show me that. That is not the kind of content that I want in my music listening app. Sure, it's neat, but it's not why I'm there. What could be neat would be knowing what that band listens to when they're on the road so I could listen to what inspires them, or being able to have public playlists where fans of the same groups can share their other interests and grow each other's musical library. These are things being whispered about on Apple's "Apple Music" page of their website, but we won't really know Connect's full benefits until Music launches on June 30. Above all else, Apple needs musical content that will draw in their users, not random bits of everything else that already exists....where's the excitement in that?
3) A Strong, Influential Community
I mainly work from home now-a-days, which means that I have had more time than ever before in the last six months to listen to music. Even though I have moments where I know exactly what album or playlist I want to listen to in that moment, I still have 6+ other hours of work or driving in my day which my brain will require music for...and even my favorites started feeling a little stale after just one month. Spotify's playlists and personal interaction between users truly allows you to deliver the most personal experience currently available from any music service. Users are able to go through hundreds of millions of playlists based on genre, mood, title, or user, and their introduction of the "Top 50 Vial Tracks" chart is a revolutionary way to track music that's breaking on the internet before it breaks in the mainstream. If that isn't enough for you, the list of songs that my friends are currently listening to scrolling down the side is always a place for me to easily seek listening inspiration, or be reminded of an album someone recently told me "I have to listen to".
Does that sound familiar? Maybe it reminds of you the old days of Grooveshark? Those social features were some of Grooveshark users' favorites, and one of the reasons they fought so hard to keep the service alive. My little brother's biggest complaint about the sudden shutdown of the company was the loss of the playlists he'd collected and created, not the loss of his ability to stream, which seems to be a shared sentiment from the entire Grooveshark community. Spotify has created a legal (albeit poorly paying) system that mirrors these features, and I see that as one of the many reasons so many chose to adopt their platform so early on. I firmly believe that the ability to keep users listening to more music, and more new music will be what defines the success of any streaming service from here onwards, and Beats Music didn't seem to understand that...so will Apple?
4) Fair Streaming Pay Rates for Artists
The thing that will sell this for me, along with the hundreds of thousands of people working in the music industry as artists or otherwise will hopefully be the pay rates artists see per each stream. The average pay per stream between all streaming services sits somewhere between $.0013 - $.04. That's less that a half a cent per each song play. This is why streaming service rates, and streaming pay structures are so highly debated at the moment. Although Beats Music was allegedly paying out much higher than Spotify when they initially started, we can assume that pay structure is to be long forgotten with the arrival of Apple Music. Will Apple truly help pay back the industry that essentially re-booted their entire company? Or will we see similar, shockingly low pay-rates compared to their competitors? This will weigh heavy in my decision about which streaming service to financially support, but this conversation is for another day, another time, and honestly doesn't matter much until the Government is finally ready to do something about the long neglected laws in place allowing such poor pay rates to exist in the first place.
I want AppleMusic to work, I really do, but can they really be the first step in fixing an all-to broken system? Can one streaming service truly rule them all?