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Has Apple got Radio Right?

 In Music, Opinion / Rant

The biggest recent news in the world of digital music was the launch of the new Apple Music service on 30th June – their long predicted and long awaited move into digital streaming as a competitor to  Spotify et al.

Since then, if you’re a follower of music news, Apple Music has rarely been out of it – pretty good going if you subscribe to the ‘no news is bad news’ principle.  Even the more mainstream media was briefly captivated by the (very short lived) conflict with Taylor Swift over the proposals to deny artists royalty payments for their song streams during Apple’s initial 3 month free trial period.  Taylor initially drew praise for her uncompromising stand – threatening to withdraw her music from the new service in support of independent artists who stood to lose out on vital income – then was just as swiftly criticised for what seemed to be a contradictory position represented by highly restrictive contracts imposed on photographers seeking to licence their images from her live events.  Taylor_Swift_-_1989That little storm appears to have blown over without any lasting damage done to reputations, and when Apple quickly changed their stance on payments, Taylor Swift made Apple Music the only streaming service to offer access to her recent 1989 album and also restructured the rights contracts for photographers shortly afterwards, this can probably be marked down as a big PR win for everyone.

Worldwide. Always On. 

2015Beats1LogoPress290615The launch also heralded a relaunch / rebrand of iTunes Radio along with the new Beats1 service; promoted with the recruitment of big name ex BBC Radio 1 ‘New Music’ show presenter Zane Lowe and seen as Apple committing themselves to programming that would support and promote new music.I tuned in to Beats1 for the first time over lunchtime today, interested to see what was going on.  I was surprised to find that the first link was an odd little story about how Rick Astley makes virtually no money from the ongoing rickrolling meme on YouTube with a play out of Never Let Me Down by Depeche Mode.  I’ll have to declare that any station that plays mid period Depeche Mode is almost guaranteed a little bit of my affection and the playlist then ran through tracks by (among others) The Pretenders, Kylie Minogue, The Damned, Lou Reed, M.I.A and Swedish pop/indie band Komeda; all of which appealed to my musical sensibility.  The laid back delivery of the presenter was at odds with the standard lunchtime DJ style of UK commercial radio (no commercials on Beats1 by the way but there are occasional sponsor messages) and I was surprised to discover it was Josh Homme – musician, singer-songwriter (Queens of the Stone Age) and producer (Arctic Monkeys).

I stayed tuned for the next hour or so, hearing tunes that were by turn familiar, interesting, OK etc, but overall a good variety of tracks more reminiscent of a well curated playlist than the typically niche programmed radio station, and clearly not designed for an audience that would normally tune in to Absolute Radio or (dear God!), Heart!

Other Beats1 contributors during July include Dr Dre, Elton John, St.Vincent, Jaden Smith and Pharrell Williams.  Zane Lowe’s show is Monday to Thursday at 5pm in the UK.

The Apple Music streaming service was launched on 30th June. There’s a 3 month free trial period for the service, after which the subscription fee will be £9.99. Unlike Spotify there will be no ‘freemium’ service. Taylor Swift doesn’t like Spotify because of freemium, Neil Young doesn’t like streaming, and the BBC didn’t like Neil Young but now it does again – but that’s another story.

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