“Apple Music will change the way you experience music forever,” proclaimed Tim Cook last night in front of a busy San Francisco conference room, not to mention hundreds of thousands of expectant music fans tuning in from home. Details about the tech monolith’s long-rumoured streaming rival to Spotify and Tidal have till now been woollier than one of Steve Jobs’ famous turtlenecks. That all changed yesterday, in a starry event that featured Drake, a performance from his fellow Canuck crooner The Weeknd and of course our all-important first peek at the inevitably-elegantly designed platform. The gist was this: set for launch on June 30, Apple Music will allow subscribers access to a library of over 30m tracks for a mere $9.99 a month, to playlist as you please. So far, so Spotify, right? Well, things got more interesting as details emerged of a 24-hour radio service, curated by Zane Lowe among others and vying to introduce a more personal element into streaming: “algorithms can’t do it alone – you need a human touch,” industry honcho Jimmy Iovine would later tell the Guardian. Then there was some intriguing talk of integrated video and social media that further piqued hopes we were dealing with something truly innovative. “The music industry is a fragmented mess,” explained Iovine. “If you want to stream music, you can go over here. If you want to check out a video, here’s some more places. if you want to follow an artist, there’s more confusion for that.” “Confusing” might be a bit melodramatic – you could just open another tab in your browser there Jimmy, it’s not that brain-boggling – but his point stands.
Apple Music is “a place where music is treated less like digital bits and more like the art it is,” according to Trent Reznor, who was involved in its creation. Are we talking about, as an impressive introductory film spanning the history of recorded music tried to imply, an iPod-level pop cultural game-changer? It’s unlikely to be another iTunes Ping, the firm’s music and social media platform from 2010, quietly abandoned in 2012, but could Apple crumble slightly this time, up against the star power of Tidal and market dominance of Spotify? Here’s five reasons it could succeed – and five reasons why it might not herald the revolution the Nine Inch Nails man is predicting.
FOR: It claims to offer “the largest and most diverse collection of music on the planet”
There’s a lot of musicians that have famously pulled their music from Spotify over the Swedish streaming service’s alleged low royalties – Taylor Swift and Radiohead among them, both of whom already happily offer their music on iTunes. Apple, following a decade of unprecedented money-spinning tech dominance, has the financial muscle to offer artists a better deal, unlike Spotify, who struggled to turn a profit in 2014 despite their annual revenues surpassing £777m. Which is a win for artists and a win for users, whose days of trying to guiltily calculate how many times they need to stream the new Palma Violets album on Spotify so Chilli can afford a tin of beans may well be over.
AGAINST: The sound quality is likely to be worse than on Spotify and Tidal
Apple has confirmed Apple Music’s streaming bit rate is 256kbps. Which, for those not as nerdy about audio as this audio nerd right here, is far below the quality of Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal and even Beats Music, the platform Apple have swallowed with the launch of Apple Music, who all stream at up to 320kbps. Damn.
FOR: It’s not going to bankrupt you
After a free three month trial, users will pay £6.50 a month – unless they opt for Apple Music’s “family plan” of course, in which up to six members can access the same account for a couple of quid more. There’s no free option, like on Spotify, but maybe that’s for the best. The amount of times I’ve listened to a new album on Spotify and wondered if the record really needed all those 90 second spoken word interludes about visiting Australia and the dangers of teen pregnancy before realising they were ads is seriously worrying.
AGAINST: Still annoyed by U2’s ‘Songs Of Innocence’ stunt? Apple Music will be just as ubiquitous
Don’t want Apple Music? Too bad, pal. The app will be automatically installed when iPhone users upgrade to iOS 8.4 later this month, with all iPhones sold from here on in likely have the app pre-installed. A leak earlier this week appeared to reveal that Apple are targeting to reach 100m subscribers. To reach that figure, the company are hoisting Apple Music – or the app, at least – onto your phone, like it not. So if the U2 album launch last year sent you into a fit of rage, cursing Bono for his gross invasion of your privacy, then probably best to brace yourself for this one.
FOR: Apple Music Connect will roll Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and more into one
Artists can send lyrics, photos, videos and whatever else directly to fans via iPhone, according to Apple. “The artist can respond directly to you,” yesterday’s announcement cheerily boasted, filling excited music fans’ heads with images of instant updates, exclusives and interaction all in one place. Which all sounds well and good till Kasabian leak their new album months early when Serge forgets to screen lock and sits on his phone one day, accidentally clicking the wrong button. Seriously though – what’s not to like about this idea?
AGAINST: It might harm album sales
Apple insists that users who try to download an album on the iTunes store aren’t going to be strong-armed into “renting” that album, so to speak, from Apple Music instead. That’s the wrong way to look at it. You shouldn’t take a customer who’s buying an album, who’s happy buying an album, and try to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong,” Apple’s Eddy Cue told the Guardian. “We think that there are folks who are buying music who will continue to buy music for many, many years to come – and that’s great.” Which is somewhat reassuring – but what happens if Apple Music starts to become more lucrative as a part of Apple’s business than iTunes?
FOR: The radio function sounds genuinely great
We knew something was afoot when Zane Lowe announced he was joining Apple. The fact that several of his Radio 1 producer chums were also pinched in the months that followed was further evidence radio was a big part of whatever the tech giant had up their sleeve. And now we know. ‘Beats 1′ will be a live 24-hour a day “listening experience” hosted and curated by influential DJ talent from across the globe. Representing LA is Zane. New York, the great Ebro Darden. Reppin’ London, meanwhile, is the awesome Julie Adenuga – Rinse FM broadcaster and, fact fans, sister to Kanye’s favourite grime MC Skepta. The idea seems to be that it’s no use having an infinite amount of music to pick from without a little bit of guidance through it all, introducing you to the globe’s new must-hear acts and helping you uncover obscure gems. To be honest, Beats 1 – named after Dre’s headphone brand bought by Apple last year in a big money deal – appears the most tantalising aspect of Apple Music at first glance.
AGAINST: It could kill national and local radio
How does Radio 1 cope with a brand new digital-first competitor, staffed by talent stolen from the BBC station? The worry among some is – gulp – it doesn’t. With a listenership currently below that of its sister station Radio 2, which is geared at an older audience and traditionally way less populist, and its flagship show, the breakfast slot manned by Nick Grimshaw, struggling, news of Beats 1 probably hasn’t had R1 head of music George Ergatoudis bouncing down the corridors of Broadcasting House with delight. Radio has never been internationalised in this way before. Having a cutting edge global 24/7 radio station sounds great – but it’d be a shame if its success was at the expense of national institutions like Radio 1.
FOR: It has serious star power
Here’s an awesome thought. What if for months, some of the biggest artists on the planet have been sitting on their much-anticipated next releases, waiting to pair with Apple on their new service? Adele. Frank Ocean. Drake, who’s already pledged allegiance to Apple Music. According to reports, a deal is currently in the works to release Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’ follow-up ‘SWISH’ on the platform. That’s unlikely – it’d be a PR disaster for the already-struggling Tidal, who last week dropped out of the top 700 apps chart on US iTunes. But Apple have amazing relationships with artists and a track record of leading and innovating in the delivery of digital music. It’s the reason why the only place to legally hear the Beatles online is to download their albums from iTunes. Same with AC/DC. Tidal may have rolled out an all-star cast described by Noel Gallagher as like “the fucking Avengers” when they launched in March. But artists trust Apple. And that matters.
AGAINST: It could push music fans back to piracy
Well, not Apple Music itself, but the massive array of options that will be available come its June 30 launch. “If you have a fragmented sphere of services and each has a few different artists, then that’s not good for consumers and you’ll see a return to piracy,” said Stephen Witt, author of new book How Music Got Free, in the Sunday Times recently – the idea being that, if some of your favourite artists are on Tidal and some are on Apple Music and some are on Spotify, rather than shell out for all three, music fans might turn off altogether from the idea of streaming. We’ll find out soon enough…