Are you excited by Apple Music? I think I’m excited by Apple Music. Let’s discuss whether this is a valid opinion or not.
One of the first subjects I really got my teeth into on the blog two years ago was digital music, both in its streaming and downloadable formats.
I have a music journalism background (you can’t see me right now, but I struggled to write that with a straight face), I was new to digital marketing and I wanted something exciting and personal to cover, so I thought “hey, let’s take these various platforms like iTunes, Spotify and Beats to task and find out which is truly the best one.”
It was hard, thankless, pointless work. Nobody cared, nobody read the articles and save for some reactionary comments about U2 last year, I barely wrote about digital music platforms ever again. It probably didn’t help that I called the series ‘Death to iTunes’.
However I have decided to wade carefully into the dark waters of music streaming rivalry again, but this time I come armed with expert opinion (from other people) and some cold hard stats (from the respective companies involved).
First let’s take a look at Apple Music, comparing it to the two other major players, Spotify and Tidal, and then check on the current state of play.
Apple Music: what do we know so far?
I’ll break down what we know so far…
- Launch date: 30 June, so really soon. Expect my ‘expert’ review around then.
- Price: $9.99 a month, or $14.99 for a six-member family plan. The basic price is the same as Spotify and Tidal.
- Freemium model: no, it’s all pay-to-play I’m afraid. Interestingly though, many major record labels such as Universal and Sony are complaining that ad-supported streaming may be harming the music industry.
- Free three-month trial membership: so you basically may as well try it anyway even if you’re on the fence.
- Beats 1: without a membership you will still be able to listen to the Zane Lowe fronted, flagship radio station Beats 1 for free.
- Downloadable content: one of Spotify’s greatest strengths is its ability to sync tracks on to your device when offline. Apple Music allows you to do this.
- Device agnostic: The blurb on the Apple site states that you will have full access to Apple Music across iPhones, iPads, Macs and PCs. Android devices and Apple TVs will follow in Autumn, however it says nothing about Windows phones.
- Curated content: just like Spotify and Tidal, there will be curated playlists from industry experts, artists and brands.
- Apple Watch integration: yes, millionaire spies will be able to access Apple Music via their wrist.
- Siri is DJ: ask Siri “what was number one in December 1979?” and Siri will play it for you.
Apple Music: What we don’t know yet
Slightly more ambiguous however are the following issues:
- Lossless high-quality streaming: there’s no mention of this, so clearly Tidal can still differentiate itself in this area.
- Exclusive content: where Tidal has the upper hand is in providing exclusive concerts and videos from its phalanx of board members/global super-mega pop stars such as Jay-Z, Beyonce and uh… Calvin Harris. Will Apple be able to match this? So far there aren’t any major album releases exclusive to Tidal, but what if Apple releases a new Drake album, exclusively on its platform? This would truly be a major coup.
- Number of songs available: are we to assume that we’ll be able to stream absolutely every song that’s already available on iTunes? This leads me to my next point…
- Exclusive artists: The Beatles aren’t available to stream on Spotify or Tidal (and neither is Oasis or AC/DC bizarrely), however you can buy their albums on iTunes. If we can stream The Beatles on Apple Music, this could be one of its biggest attractions.
- Fair to musicians: and finally one of the most contentious issues around music streaming. How fairly will artists be paid on Apple Music? Again this is one of the key points of Tidal’s launch, but it hasn’t been mentioned at all by Apple.
How did the music industry react to this news?
Risibly, from Spotify’s CEO…
Sarcastically, from Rdo…
— Rdio (@Rdio) June 8, 2015
Witheringly, from Rhapsody’s CEO…
It’s flattering to watch new competitors bring a product virtually identical to the one we’ve had in market for years.
Now let’s take a look at some key figures from the three rivals…
Spotify chose today (10 June), two days after the Apple Music announcement, to reveal its current user statistics…
- 75m active users
- 20m of which are subscribers who pay for its service
This is massively up from 10m paying subscribers and 40m active users this time last year.
Tidal was launched 30 March so of course it has yet to build a comparable audience. Recent speculation puts it at about 800,000 subscribers but I wouldn’t take that as a definite.
One unfortunate piece of news that The Guardian reported recently was that within one month after launch, Tidal slipped out of the US iPhone top 700 download chart. Whereas rival services Pandora and Spotify surged ahead, occupying the No 3 and No 4 spot on the US iPhone revenue chart.
Seemingly all the news around Tidal has only spurred people on to try its rivals instead.
To learn more about Tidal, I highly recommend this article on Black Ballad: #TidalForAll except you.
Clearly Spotify is the biggest concern with its 75m active users and 20m already paying for it. Where does this leave Apple Music?
When Apple purchased Beats Music in 2014, the subscription service only had 250,000 customers, rising to 303,000 by the end of the year, so it is essentially starting from scratch.
However, with Apple Music automatically arriving on every single iOS device and iTunes account with a simple update at the end of the month and the offering of a three-month free subscription, Apple may end up with an incredibly strong user-base.
As a user I’ve been so frustrated that every platform I use is so rigidly tied to an operating system and that every company involved is fundamentally wary of launching a cross device platform that solves all of the problems.
The victor in this battle will be the format that backs down and offers a cross-device platform that works equally well for all operating systems or a third-party offering a brilliant solution that is device agnostic.
It’s not necessarily about lossless audio or exclusive curated content, it’s about providing an easy seamless customer experience. If Apple can provide this, Apple will win.