Ever since the bottom dropped out of the music industry in 1999, sales in almost all formats have continued to plunge. The CD failed, the album failed, and even digital music sales are tanking for the first time. The battle over how we consume music has now moved onto streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play. Beats Music is the latest challenger.
So what's their pitch? Why should we choose Beats Music over the hundreds of other similar services? Music curation is the centerpiece around which Beats Music is built. Every aspect of the app, from situational listening (more on that below) to artist-related channels, is based on playlists assembled by an array of industry professionals. Head honcho and record exec Jimmy Iovine may be the face of the company, but tastemakers like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and former Pitchfork Editor-in-Chief Scott Plagenhoef are just two of the many names that comprise their expert curation team. Whether or not these experts can truly tailor their music selections to your tastes is up for debate, but I'm certainly excited to find out. The app will also feature built-in widgets from trusted sources like Rolling Stone, DJ Mag, and Hot 97.
The most notable feature of Beats Music is called Right Now, a Mad Libs-like template that's pictured to the right. After entering where you are, your mood, who you're with, and what genre you want, Right Now promises to transport you to that exact scenario (whether real or imagined) and play the perfect music for the situation. As previously mentioned, this music would be chosen by a combination of your own personal tastes and the panel of Beats Music selectors. Of course, since playlists are so central to Beats Music, users are encouraged to curate their own and share with friends. They can also download hundreds of albums for offline listening and craft playlists on the go. It has yet to be announced just how Beats Music will be integrated into social media, if at all, but I think it would be smart to do so.
Beats Music and its development team certainly know a thing or two about brand management; its bottom-up design for mobile is sleek, sexy, and most importantly fun and simple to use. But I can't help but question their decision to completely avoid a free platform. Beats Music offers their services for $9.99/month which is... $9.99 more a month then the basic version of major competitor Spotify.
(Update: Spotify has now dropped all limits on streaming music on the web. Users have unlimited streaming hours.)
It all boils down to trust. Do you trust seasoned industry veterans to deliver on your musical preferences? Do you trust them more than a close friend or loved one? The answer won't come until Beats Music hits the public and the feeding frenzy that follows gives us a general consensus. That date is January 21st, just four days from today. Let the streaming wars begin.