Beats, the ubiquitous headphone brand co-founded by Dr Dre, will release its music streaming service Beats Music in the USA on 21 January.
Beats currently controls 27% of the $1.8bn headphone market and 57% of the premium market (an eye-watering place where headphones can cost anywhere between $100-$400) and its headphones have quickly become a visual staple of public transport, the high street and indeed the very office I’m writing this article in now, within only the last few years.
Now it looks like Beats is set to take on the music streaming market with what appears to be an expertly planned, theoretically artist-friendly and potentially Spotify smashing service.
Let’s take a closer look…
Unlike Spotify there will be no free version of the service. The user will have a 30 day free trial run and then have to pay $9.99 per month for unlimited access to more than 20m songs through the desktop website or apps for iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices. The 20m song figure already equals Spotify's figure for globally licenced songs.
Beats has also partnered with AT&T to offer a ‘multiline’ account for $14.99 a month. This gives you a 90 day trial period and allows access to Beats Music for up to five family members and 10 devices. This apparently is an ‘unlimited’ service that won’t eat into data plans or is subject to download caps.
Currently you can use Spotify on as many devices as you like, with up to 3,333 songs able to be synced for offline listening on up to three devices at a time.
However, you can only stream music on one device at a time. If you begin playback on another device, the playback on your current device will be paused. I imagine this won’t be the same for the Beats Music family plan.
Anyone who uses Spotify will know how poor its ‘Discovery’ homepage is. This is what I’m currently being recommended right now by Spotify.
I kid you not. I haven’t listened to a single soundtrack using Spotify let alone a Jerry Goldsmith one. This along with a permanent insistence to recommend Talking Heads to me based on every single band I listen to, irrelevant of their similarity or lack thereof, makes for a baffling ‘curated’ experience.
Apparently Beats will sidestep this by employing a specific editorial team from various radio and journalism backgrounds to curate playlists for the user. Selections will also be provided by partnered brands such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
This personalised selection of albums and playlists will be delivered four times a day to the homepage making for a constantly evolving contextual experience, remaining relevant to the user’s current location, activity, mood, time of day and musical preferences.
The ability to make playlists yourself and see recommendations from others is an integral part of any streaming service and therefore isn’t anything new, however this added personalisation and relevancy may make for some more interesting discoveries than the above recommendation.
It helps that the major players behind Beats are recording artists themselves. Dr Dre has perhaps found the most financially rewarding procrastination activity ever, having put off the production of his sequel to the album ‘2001’ for 14 years and counting.
Also the chief creative officer of Beats Music is none other than Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor.
Actual working musicians will have a much better idea of what is considered fair when it comes to royalties.
The statement that Beats music will be "paying the same royalty rate to all content owners major and indie alike" will perhaps assuage any criticism that Spotify received last year from Thom Yorke, who also described Spotify as the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.
Reznor’s slightly more 'press friendly' quote that "Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development," may engender more faith in its payment model.
The lack of free service certainly backs up this statement and will at least prevent the high percentage of freeloaders who are happy to put up with Spotify's regular advert breaks.
Online music streaming doubled in the UK in 2013 and 2014 looks set to be an even busier year. According to The Guardian, YouTube will launch its own music subscription service in the first quarter of 2014, closely followed by the US launch of French streaming service Deezer.
Once the Beats service is up and running I'll look at the site in closer detail and offer a comparison to the other available music streaming sites.
Until then, I'm going to check out the Frank Stallone penned 'Peace In Our Life' as featured on the end credits of Rambo First Blood Part II, that I never knew existed until now.