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.