Saturday, March 25, 2017

Music: For Apple, the "Beats" Goes On


Record stores mean a lot to Zane Lowe.
Best known for his 12 years as one of the BBC's top Radio 1 DJs, Lowe uncovered the earliest recordings of hip-hop by devotedly riffling through record store bins, and he found the way to Nirvana by awkwardly humming the guitar riff to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to his local record store clerk. Moving to London from New Zealand as a radio DJ in 1997, he worked at a record store himself before joining MTV2 and, later, Radio 1.
Now, as the the head of Apple's global streaming radio channel, he sees Beats 1 mimicking the expertise of that behind-the-counter guru in today's age of streaming libraries.
"I use playlists and I make them, but there should be a room for creativity, and for culture, and for romance as well," he said in an exclusive interview with CNET on the sidelines of SXSW 2017. "Otherwise it is just like" -- he shifts to a robotic monotone -- "'that is out, go and play it.'

 A year and a half after Apple launched Beats 1, Lowe's radiolike channel remains one of the main features that sets Apple Music apart as streaming-service rivals such as Spotify and Tidal race to dominate the growing market for all-you-can-eat music subscriptions. Apple's hope is that the cultural cachet of Lowe's team of tastemakers, as well as high-profile album exclusives, can be enough to win you over.

While Apple is a household name, its music service still plays second fiddle to Spotify. Lowe wouldn't specify Apple Music's latest numbers nor the size of Beats 1's audience, but his boss, Eddy Cue, said in February that members were "well past" 20 million. Spotify boasts 50 million subscribers and more than 100 million people tuning in free for its music with advertising.
Apple Music also diverges from the company's core business of selling you gadgets. Even as the iTunes store came to dominate 99-cent song downloads, its existence was meant to propel sales of iPods and, later, iPhones. With the sales growth of those all-important iPhones starting to crest, CEO Tim Cook said in January he wants to double revenue from services like Apple Music in four years.

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