Zane Lowe: ‘We had just three months to build Beats 1’

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Zane Lowe
Zane Lowe and others talk Beats 1 on the second anniversary of its launch.
Photo: Apple

This month marks the second year of Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio station. To mark the occasion, Apple DJs Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga have given an interview with High Snobiety, in which they look back at the successes and challenges faced by Apple Music over the past couple of years.

One of the questions that comes up during the conversation are why the three successful DJs chose to leave what they were doing before, and join an unproven venture with Apple. Lowe said that it, “was an opportunity to move with music. It felt like music and its audience were heading into a place where On Demand culture was thriving and streaming was learning fast.”

Darden echoes the sentiment by saying that entering the digital space, “seemed a natural evolution,” while Adenuga frames it as being a new challenge.

They also touch on the challenges of building Beats 1 at a time when traditional radio listenership is falling. Lowe answers by recalling that the team had just three months to, “build Beats 1 from scratch.” This included trying to work out where radio was going in the 21st century.

“Radio had been driving pop music in the world for 50 years, and for all of those years, that was the only way to get a hit record. I’m not sure that’s still the case. Radio listenership like that is declining and in some cases gone. The Norwegians are turning off their FM signal. Where does new music fit on most terrestrial radio these days? With few exceptions, mainstream music radio has not been a driving force for change for some time. That’s why college, pirate, digital and blogs do the ground work for it. More music is being listened to than ever before. Old statistical records are being broken by new ones. As streaming services have begun to grow, we’ve seen the trusted industry tentpoles—Management, Record Labels, Publishers, and Media—begin to adapt …

We had to face up to the reality that the old expectations may not fit the artist anymore. We have to trust the artists. Let them drive their own conversation. Trust that they know their audience. They know how to get the results. They know how this works. With that in mind, we built Beats 1, where artists can own their own real estate, drive their own message, satisfy their audience in their own voice, and hopefully, add value. Free has to lead somewhere. It has to collaborate. It has to build trust. And it’s working.”

What’s not discussed

Perhaps just as significant as what is talked about during the interview is what isn’t. Having previously alluded to additional Beats radio stations — and Apple having registered websites for Beats 2, 3, 4, and 5 — that subject is not even broached. Nor are any figures concerning listenership. (Apple revealed at WWDC that Apple Music has 27 million subscribers.)

Lowe mentions Apple’s original TV show Planet of the Apps, but doesn’t go out of his way to push it — or to talk more broadly about Apple’s reported original video content plans for its streaming music service. Part of this may be down to the fact that, having previously suggested that Apple doesn’t need Beats 1 in an interview, he’s careful not to make any major faux pas.

Two years on, it feels very much like Beats 1 is ticking along in the background at Apple, rather than being a major focus. This contrasts with the early days when it launched, during which it was viewed as being a key differentiator from other music services like Spotify. Today, that role seems to be carried out by Apple’s video ambitions, such as its exclusive music documentaries.

Apple also continues to focus on attracting the youth crowd, particularly through its focus on hip hop, and ignores older, tech-focused listeners. (Is there really no interest in a weekly show on Apple history, for instance? What about the occasional interview with an Apple VP?)

Do you listen to Beats 1? What’s your verdict of the service? Leave your comments below.

Source: High Snobiety