Beats Music, a new streaming service to rival the likes of Spotify and Deezer, launched in the US this week. NME New York writer Mischa Pearlman gives us his first impressions of the platform, due for a UK launch later this year.
I’ll be the first to admit that, when it comes to music, I’m a total Luddite. When I moved from London to New York some 18 months ago, the hardest part beyond saying goodbye to friends and family was leaving behind my music collection – probably a couple of thousand CDs and maybe 300 vinyl albums. I started using Spotify a bit, but I got fed up with both their interface and their ads – because I have issues about paying for a streaming service which gives a minuscule amount of money to the artists in its database, I never signed up for the premium account. Now comes Beats Music.
Launched by Dr. Dre and Trent Reznor in the US last week, it claims to be more artist-friendly. It pays equal royalties for everything in its database and, unlike Spotify, it doesn’t have a free version. Beyond an initial seven-day free trial, you have to sign up to use it. At $9.99 a month, it costs the same as Spotify, giving you access to 20 million tracks. How much artists get is unknown, but as Radiohead, who have been vocal in their opposition to Spotify, have all their albums on there (except, bizarrely, the one they basically gave away for free, pay-what-you-want release ‘In Rainbows’), presumably Beats Music offers a better deal for musicians that existing streaming services. But is it a better deal for users? I downloaded the free trial and had a little play…
Beats Music looks great – slick, stylish and minimalistic. It feels less like a boring database of songs and more like something fun to play with. When you first sign up, you choose which genres you’re into from a wide selection. Hold for a few seconds to ‘hate’, tap once to ‘like’ and twice to ‘love’. Based on your selections, you’re then provided with a list of artists for which you do the same, up to three times. This is Beats working out, presumably via complicated algorithms, who you are, what you like and what your music taste says about you.
When that’s done you’re taken to the Home Page, which is meant to be your own personal portal into the world of Beats Music. Here, you’ll find a selection of playlists made by curators – Beats Music is big on the idea of curators, whether that’s their own in house experts – professional tastemakers like Pitchfork or, err, American superstore Target – and random albums by artists you think you might like. Based on my initial choices, the playlists that have so far emerged include ‘Best Of College Rock’, ‘Modest Mouse: The Early Years’, ‘Under The Influence: Elvis Costello’ and albums by R.E.M., Pulp, The Shins, Talking Heads. Decide what you want to listen to, whether it be playlist or album, tap to ‘like’ and you’re away. If there’s something you hate (hello, Fall Out Boy) you can ‘unlike’ it and it’ll swiftly disappear (goodbye, Fall Out Boy). The idea is that the more time you spend with Beats Music, the more it gets to know your tastes, improving the hit rate of its suggestions.
Like Spotify, you can download songs, albums and playlists you want to hear on the move and listen to them in offline mode later. The ease with which you can download was pretty impressive. Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ isn’t on there which is strange as err, Dre spearheaded the entire project, but otherwise the selection of artists and albums is pretty extensive, with plenty of obscure records to explore.
None of this really differentiates Beats Music from iTunes or any other streaming service – instead, it does what they do, albeit with a cooler and better looking interface. There are two things which, for me, make Beats Music stand out. First is the aforementioned Home Page – titled ‘Just For You’ it’s the computerized version of an old record or CD in your collection that you haven’t played in years catching your eye. Hüsker Dü’s ‘Zen Arcade’? Don’t mind if I dü, actually.
The other thing that stands out, but which probably doesn’t work as cleverly they want it to just yet, is Beats Music’s ‘The Sentence’ feature. The app’s equivalent to Spotify Radio or Pandora is a bit like a Mad Libs randomiser for listening to music – you fill in gaps in a pre-formed, slightly surreal sentence template, and depending what you choose you then you get you own unique listening experience. Here’s an example – the parts in brackets are the choices:
(AT BAND CAMP)
& FEEL LIKE
Quite. So whether you want to do the above, or you’re IN THE SHOWER and feel like BBQING with YOUR MOM to 90S POP ROCK, or you’re IN BED and feel like PUNCHING WALLS with ROBOTS to REGGAE & DANCEHALL, Beats Music supposedly has a playlist to soundtrack your perverted proclivities. If you’re IN BED and feel like BEING BLUE with MYSELF to JAZZ VOCALS, the result is a gorgeous, soothing Sunday afternoon selection of tender jazz ballads. As gimmicky as it sounds, it’s pretty fun.
Will I be signing up? Not yet, but I’m seriously thinking about it. And for a Luddite like me, that’s a pretty big deal.