by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Is Apple Music a game changer?
I think it is. Not because it’s anything special. At best, it’s a knock-off of Spotify. And not because it provides a new way to listen to new music. Apple Music’s Beats 1 is a lesser version of Sirius satellite offerings (specifically XMU).
The reason Apple Music is a game changer is because it’s convenient; it’s easy. If you own an iPhone, Apple Music is a mere touch away after you update your iOS. It’s baked into iTunes, which means it’s right in front of your nose. Just tap the three-month free offer and you’ve opened your listening experience to a global collection of music.
Apple Music became available yesterday at 10 a.m. I updated my iPhone with the new OS during a staff meeting. By the time the meeting ended, the update was installed. After accepting the Apple Music offer, I could search Apple Music’s vast music library in addition to my own. My first search was for Queen’s Live at the Rainbow ’74 album, which I’d been listening to in Spotify. There it was. Tap-tap-tap and Freddie Mercury was blazing “Keep Yourself Alive” through my earbuds.
With immediate access to just about any popular recorded music, why would anyone buy another album from iTunes? There are exceptions. Prince doesn’t exist in Apple Music. Nor does The Beatles. But Taylor Swift is there. So is Metallica. And AC/DC, which Apple is making a big fuss over. Come on, doesn’t everyone already own Back in Black?
The rest of Apple Music’s offerings — the other new features —probably won’t get used. “Connect” — Apple Music’s “social platform” is a hodge-podge oddity that sort of resembles Tumblr with lots of Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails content. Why would anyone look there?
“For You” is a music picker that asks you what kind of music and which artists you like, and then makes recommendations based on your responses, sort of like the “recommended” tab in Netflix. It also creates playlists, such as “Morrissey: Political Songs” and “Inspired by Scott Walker” which includes tracks by Belle & Sebastian, Bowie, Pulp, Tindersticks, etc. This might be worth keeping an eye on.
Then there’s Beats 1, Apple’s so-called radio station that’s “Worldwide. Always on.” There was a bit of a buzz listening to Beats 1 right after the launch, sort of like when MTV first launched in the ’80s and you wondered if music television would really be relevant and/or would anyone listen/watch it. We did, of course. I’m not sure that’ll be the case with Beats 1.
First off, the music isn’t always live. Late last night they replayed their first hours of the broadcast from earlier that morning. It turns out that Apple streams live, though the programming is likely pre-recorded, and includes 12-by-12 reruns — 12 hours new, 12 hours rebroadcast, which sucks. The beauty of live radio was that it was live. These days, only talk radio is truly live. Most music radio stations are run by pre-recorded robots.
Had Beats 1 really been a 24/7 live broadcast, it might have become a sort of global taste-maker touch-point, like MTV was for a few years after its launch. Another problem: The station’s overbearing DJs have a nasty habit of talking during the songs — in fact, right in the middle of songs. Is talking over songs a “DJ thing” these days? The station also barks out “worldwide, always on” during the middle of songs — i.e., commercials during the music. Consider it an audio watermark, sort of like that network logo that appears in the corner of your TV screen. Awful. Maybe it’s just a temporary thing during launch week? Something tells me it’s not.
Beats 1 played two songs by Bully during the first couple hours of broadcast, making me wonder how bands get added to this rather valuable playlist that’s “aired in 100 countries.” Like KROQ and Sirius XMU, Beats 1 has the power to turn unknowns into mega-stars by simply airing their music. Because in an era when everyone has 10 million albums available at their fingertips, music curation is the candlelight in the wilderness.
In fact, getting your music added to playlists has become the most important thing for bands and record labels. If you can get added to any of these top-100 playlists in Spotify, for example, you immediately get your music heard by millions of people who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise while at the same time scoring valuable “plays” that add to your pocketbook. Getting added to popular playlists likely will involve spending lots of money, and hiring an agent.
I’ve been a Spotify subscriber for a few years. Will I switch to Apple Music? Probably. Though it doesn’t add any new functions, Apple Music is better integrated with iTunes, which I always have open on my desktop and iPhone. Spotify only has two features I’ll miss: a Running app that matches music to your running tempo (very cool) and a small screen on the desktop that shows what friends who use Spotify are listening to — believe it or not, your taste matters to me.
But what about the whole “pay the artist” issue? I’ll still buy vinyl versions of music I can’t live without. And a recent discussion with two label reps and a publicist has changed my mind on the value of streaming, at least for mid-level record labels with valuable back catalogs. There’s still no answer for new bands who are getting paid in pennies for streaming. Those bands not repped by a label have a right to keep their music off streaming services. But can they afford to?
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Canada Day is being celebrated tonight at The Waiting Room. The concert, which benefits the Siena/Francis House, features a cadre of local musicians covering Canadian artists. Performers include Michael Campbell, Vago, 24 Hour Cardlock, Sunless Trio, The Electroliners, Tara Vaughan, The Prairie Gators, Kait Berreckman and Castor. $8, 7 p.m., ya hoser!
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
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