What Apple Music says about how Apple views musicians



Photo: Apple

By Brandon Shaw

Dear Apple,

I wanted to love Apple Music, I really did. It had all the potential in the world, and with all the hype surrounding the WWDC keynote, I watched with cautious optimism. Ultimately, though, I was disappointed. Here’s why.

The Good

First off, let me tell you what you did well.

Large Catalogue

You launched a music streaming service built on the back of the iTunes Music Store. This puts you at an advantage over other streaming services like Spotify and Tidal, which have smaller libraries. So right out of the gate, you have a LOT of music ready to go.

Limited Free Tier

I even hesitate to call it a “tier”. You’ve set your price at $9.99/mo. Perfect. And you’ve let users have a 3 month free trial to test it out. Great. Is there a fully free tier? No! While this move is surely going to be controversial, I’m with you Apple, I got your back. Spotify’s free tier is it’s achillies’ heel that causes the dreadfully low artists payouts. So $9.99/mo. (or $14.99 for families) with a 3 month trial is a pretty great middle ground. Well done.

Unfortunately, this brings a close to the “Good” section.

The Bad

Artist Payouts

What you didn’t explain (and absolutely SHOULD have) was how you’re going to pay artists. You toted out music celebrities to explain how the music industry is a fragmented mess, announced that the entire iTunes music catalog is now streaming, and failed to explain how that works. If an artist’s music in iTunes is going to see a dip in sales from this (which it will), how are you going to make up the difference?

Ping Already Failed

Hey, remember your distant cousin, Ping? It was supposed to build social networking features into iTunes, so you can hear directly from your favorite artists. And it was a dud. It launched in 2010, and closed only 2 years later. Rebuilding Ping into Apple Music is an interesting idea, but considering that artists are already connecting with fans on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and every other social network that means that this is going to be a tough sell. I like the idea, I just don’t think it’s going to take off.

That Keynote

I’ll give it to you, Apple Music, your keynote wasn’t as bad as the Tidal keynote, but that’s really not saying much.

Why did you bring out Jimmy Iovine? Why did you have a video with Trent Reznor? And why the hell did you bring out Drake? They are terrible public speakers, and Drake literally said nothing. Look, I get it, you need some celebrity star power. But as we learned from the Tidal keynote, musicians are terrible public speakers!

Not only that, you spent way too much time demoing the app. It’s 2015. You can just say, “yeah we have an app, and it does everything you expect it to.” We didn’t need to see how to make playlists, sort through albums, or see how to play individual tracks. We already know how to do that. The extended demo was long, boring, and frankly a little insulting.

The Ugly

I’ma give it you straight, Apple: the Apple Music app is ugly. It looks like the regular music app on the iPhone (which no one uses anymore). It feels like it was designed 2 years ago with iOS 7 (because it was) and doesn’t feel hip or cool at all. Just look at the interface differences between Apple Music, Spotify, and even Tidal. One of these things is not like the other.

Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal.
Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal.

The Meh

Siri integration is cool, Beats One is a radio station (interesting throwback), and because it’s Apple Music, you’ll have deeper integration into the Apple ecosystem. Also, I know, this is a developer conference, so that stuff matters to them probably. Cool, but not revolutionary.

The Missed

I just sat through a two and half hour keynote, mainly waiting to hear about Apple Music. The rest of the time was spent talking about upcoming features to OS X, iOS and WatchOS. As an Apple user, my interest was piqued several times, but for much of it, I found myself thinking “BORING! this is nerdy developer stuff.”

I don’t care about how Swift 2 is going to be open source, or how the Metal layer allows developers to get better integration into the Open GL layers of the core Cocoa layer (or whatever).

But then I realized, this is a developer conference. That crap isn’t meant for me anyway. It’s meant for developers. Apple pours a TON of money into development of their SDKs, APIs, and other acronyms that I don’t understand. They want people to develop for their platforms, and they want to make it as easy and profitable for them as possible.

The biggest missed opportunity was for Apple to treat Artists and Musicians like Developers.

We were told that Apple has paid $30 Billion to developers through the App Store. That’s amazing! If I were a developer, I would be super pumped about developing for Apple platforms. Not only would they give me great tools that I can use to easily build great apps (SDKs, easier programming language), but their App Store is straightforward, and I know how I would get paid!

Similarly, musicians are the ones who are creating the content for Apple Music. But zero time was spent telling Artists about the tools they can use to maximize the platform (other than the zombified Ping). No one even knows how they’re going to pay. I understand that it’s a different business model, but at least give us something.

Wrap Up

Apple, you need to start treating musicians and artists the way you treat your software developers. You can do this by giving artists and musicians great tools they can use to easily build awesome things with a clear idea of how to make money. Right now, they’re an after thought. Give us some more info, and don’t be afraid to geek out a little with us!

Also, I’m sorry, but putting a singer on stage with backing tracks for the launch of Apple Music is like having some guy demo his front side user-facing bus server he made with Ruby 1.0. Or something.

Brandon Shaw is a bearded, coffee-drinking, blogging, freelance musician in the Los Angeles area. This article originally appeared on his blog, Startup Musician.