The State Of The Streaming Music Wars: Where Beats Music Fits In
Jesse Cannon is the author of Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The New Music Business and the man behind Cannon Found Soundation. Read up on his Perspective of Beats Music and let us know your thoughts below!
When the future of the music business is discussed, it’s often a discussion of what will happen with the collapse of the major labels and how artists are going to get paid. There is no fact that will determine this outcome more than the power struggle between the music streaming services, specifically Spotify, Rdio, Google, Apple, and the newly reincarnated MOG, which we now know as Beats Music (Beats by Dre bought MOG to launch this service and will end MOG’s service on 4/15). While all of these services — except Apple — have stepped into the game and made a streaming music service with an extensive library, the insiders of the music business have all been waiting for this one. Knowing that some of the deepest talents in the music business are a part of the service, it’s had every music business insider waiting for today’s launch.
Artist And User Friendly
The first thing to know about Beats Music is that it’s not about Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, or Trent Reznor, like all the big publications will lead you to believe. CEO Ian Rogers — who I consider one of the smartest people in music business — helped to educate every musician to the right way of doing DIY during his time as CEO of Topspin Media, along with creating some of the best tools for music promotion musicians have today. This is a person who concerns himself greatly with the user and musicians alike. It shows in the service: the service has a fantastic feel as a music fan, and many of the functions feel better to me than any of the music services that have been out for years.
Yesterday, Spotify made big news by announcing that it would allow musicians to sell merch to their fans who listen on the service and charge no fee to the musicians who take advantage of it. What we saw today was a defensive move to counter many of Beats Music’s musician-friendly services, including the ability to sell merch and concert tickets to fans. Beats has also committed to “paying the same royalty rate to all content owners, major and indie alike.” If that wasn’t enough, Beats pledged to “allow artists to curate their own pages, and in general provide a friendly place where artists can make fans aware of T-shirts or concert tickets, and consumers can learn more about music and culture.” This can go a long way in helping musicians make money and continue to make the music you enjoy and the prominence of the “follow button” on every musicians page shows they are taking this seriously.
I have long avoided Spotify for the cleanliness and ease-of-use of Rdio. Not only does it look far better than Spotify, it’s easy to find what I want and listen to it fast. I personally don’t need apps to play with or any of the extras Spotify has, like knowing that one of my friends listens to Macklemore every day. I just need music. If you are like me, then I cannot recommend Beats enough. Another secret weapon of the Beats team (who you aren’t hearing about) is Rob Sheridan, who has been Trent Reznor’s creative director for more than a decade and is responsible for all the amazing visuals you have seen from Nine Inch Nails over the years. The look, feel and ease of use supervised by him is, in my eyes, the best there is. Everything about this app works well and looks fantastic.
Aside from having a superior interface, Beats takes pride in its playlist system, investing in curated playlists from famous radio DJs, nerdy Pitchfork staffers, insufferable douchebags like will.i.am and many more. They also employ a Mad Libs-type system called “The Sentence,” which allows you to fill in a few parameters for what you want to hear — the service will customize you a playlist. Throughout the interface, they encourage you to heart the music you like in order for them to get to know you better and build you better playlists. I hearted about 100 of my favorite songs before giving the radio recommendation function a spin by looking at the songs I listened to the most in 2013.
While this all amounts to a lot of cool marketing gimmicks, does the recommendation system work for usable results? Every time, I put it to the test by trying out my favorite mainstream, underground, and totally unknown bands. The result this time was unlike what I experienced with Google, Pandora, Spotify, or Rdio’s services, which give me terrible results. I experienced a bunch of songs I actually enjoy and even a song I had never heard that I now love. On day one, Beats radio playlists give me better suggestions than those that have been developed for years. They are also much cooler suggestions, instead of obscure bad selections from no-name groups; they give me obscure cool selections or good underground acts, as well as seminal, influential underground acts. This is the clear distinction between them and other recommendations services.
High Quality Streaming
As a record producer nerd, Spotify often sounds close to the ear torture of a MySpace player, so I very much appreciate that Beats allows me to say that I prefer a high quality stream on their mobile app. This is great news for all of us who want to hear our music as best as it can be heard. All of the services have their own sound, and comparing the latest The 1975 record on Rdio, Spotify, iTunes, and Beats, we have an unquestionable winner when high quality streaming is enabled. This isn’t shocking, since the service started from a headphone company that looked to enhance the audio experience, even if Beats headphones are considered an atrocity to many of us audio nerds.
The service also offers a serious distinction from the others in that there will be no ads. They make the point that the last thing you want in the midst of your “Baby Making” playlist is an ad for anti-depressants that you find on Spotify. That also means you have to pay for the service, but this leads me to believe that they really are marketing this as the service serious music nerds can use, not those with no money for music to afford the industry standard $9.99 a month.
One of the biggest concerns with streaming music is whether they have all of your favorite songs or not. This morning, I spent a half an hour typing in many of my favorite groups, as well as the musicians who aren’t on Spotify, Rdio, etc. It seems Beats has all of the same catalog you get on other services. I was unable to find any song that is on the competition that Beats didn’t have, and vice versa. That said, when you see your favorite DIY band isn’t on here, be sure to write them and tell them to update their distribution on either TuneCore, CD Baby or ReverbNation, since it is their fault for not distributing their music properly. Come on, musician slackers!
While Beats is available on iOs, Android, the web and even Windows OS, there sadly isn’t a desktop app (instead, there’s a web browser) or Apple Airplay function, which makes this pretty useless for listening at home for people like me, since I am not ready to go back to the days of being tethered to a one-eighth inch jack to listen to my iPhone. There is also no free version; instead, there’s a seven-day trial, which means they are banking on every user being impressed enough with the service to sign up pretty fast. While I didn’t mind the long setup experience, PropertyOfZack founder Zack Zarrillo made it sound like he spent 12 years as a slave going through it, so be aware that you will not be listening to music right after you choose a username. There’s a bunch of forms to fill out, and you need to tell Beats about your music tastes.
I am absolutely impressed with Beats service, but the fact that there’s no Apple Airplay function means I cannot do what I would like to do and end my Rdio subscription to start a Beats Music one. That said, I cannot think of a service that was this good on day one. While I think you can forget about Google’s service (and Rdio is most likely toast now that Beats is on the scene) whether you love Beats today or not, it is worth your while to watch what they do next. Any service this good on day one can easily go on to greater things.
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