Selling Streaming Music to the Masses

Apple Music execs know they have to do more to grow, but they may be headed down the wrong path.

Image from NeONBRAND marketing via Unsplash
Image from NeONBRAND marketing via Unsplash

A recent interview with Jimmy Iovine and some of Apple Music’s other key players in Billboard magazine revealed that though Apple Music is growing in terms of number of subscribers (30 million), Iovine feels it has a long way to go before it is a success. The head of Apple Music believes that the streaming subscription service needs to have “soul” to remain sticky enough to hold on to subscribers and generate enough interest among those who are now satisfied with getting inferior experiences from free services.

While I wholeheartedly agree that to make streaming subscriptions have more value and Apple has got to do more that simply pump beats into your ear holes, I totally disagree with the approach that is focused on in this article. Most of the the comments in the interview feel like they revolve around how to get more content from “superstar” artists. Many of the responses sound something like, “we were at the recording studio with Drake, and he was talking about wanting to really tell a story with his latest Sprite commercial, when Marilyn Manson and Lars Ulrich popped their heads in and told us we’ve got to get exclusive rights to stream Elton John’s new movie collaboration.”

There may be metrics to show interest in these artists can generate some customer loyalty, but in an increasingly musically fragmented market, betting on the sustaining power of Elton John or even Drake doesn’t seem like a forward thinking position. Even Apple doesn’t have the reach and resources to mine a deep well with every musician people are passionate about these days. Zane Lowe, from BBC Radio 1, who is now creative director for Apple Music and a DJ on their Beats 1 radio offering, seems to feel like consumers want to live his life vicariously, hanging out with high-profile industry movers and shakers.

“What’s really going to make you want to go on this journey with these artists?” asks Lowe, whose hundreds of lengthy, revealing interviews with superstar artists represent one potential answer (though marketing those interviews remains one of the many challenges facing Apple Music).

Instead of name dropping celebrity musicians or superstars or whatever you want to call them, Apple should be focused on the value the service brings above and beyond their competitors. They have differentiators, but they don’t promote them.

Here are some features of the service that help it to stand out amongst other online music streaming offerings:

  1. The ability to combine your existing music library with the vast catalog in the cloud. This is invaluable to hardcore music fans like myself. If I want to listen to a recording by Chinese shoegazers RUBUR, and they aren’t available on Apple Music, I need to be able to upload music I’ve downloaded elsewhere. Another example: I just joined the music subscription service Sounds Delicious, which features different artists covering classic albums. They send you a new record approximately each month, and with it a download card for a digital copy of the album. Most of their albums are not available on streaming services. It’s great to be able to download the songs from one of these release and then add them to playlists with songs I’m only “renting” from Apple Music.
  2. The interface is well designed and is a pleasure to look at and use. This cannot be said of the top streaming music service, Spotify. While Spotify has many great features, it’s hard to navigate through. You have to continuously scroll down to browse a particular artist’s albums, which are presented in a list view, rather than a grid view. The uncompromising death metal blackness of the Spotify interface leaves you with a sense that it was designed by an overzealous Cradle of Filth fan. The ever present neon-ish green that is Spotify’s trademark color is not attractive. It makes you wonder if Spotify’s older brother that it so desperately wants to be like is an X-Box. The whole user experience, from colors to controls, is a little bit messy and can be a turn off.
  3. A way to keep explicit music from your kids. This is actually an iOS feature that can be used with Apple Music. On your child’s device, you navigate to your General Settings on your device to setup restrictions, where you can block music marked as explicit in Apple Music. Spotify can’t tie into those restrictions, and though Spotify users have been asking for a similar feature for a few years, they have yet to roll out anything that can keep your kid from listening to things you may find objectionable. It’s not a good feeling to pay for a family music plan when you find your kid listening to “Get on It” by Young Stud (ft. Levitra and Cialis) and busting out moves that would get them kicked out of the middle school dance.

I would love to see Apple stop chasing exclusive content from mediocre but commercially viable artists and embrace the strengths of the service that really make it attractive to any music lover.

Disclaimer: When I was in college, I had a European History professor who also wrote for Billboard Magazine. He used to give us free promo CD’s that he had received. I particularly remember getting a Bebel Gilberto disc from him. There, that’s my disclosure after writing about a Billboard piece. Whew, I feel better.

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Robert is a Christian, aspiring minimalist, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic located in North Carolina.

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