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I.B. BAD BREAKS DOWN
THE NEXT BIG THING
A Look Under the Hood of Apple Music

In general, the Apple Music unveiling received a ho-hum reception from the music biz rank and file. But those who have had a chance to drill down on the guts of this intricate but elegant creation are more optimistic. Indeed, some feel that it could be an epic sea change in a truly unprecedented commercial marriage of artist development, content and technology. Now, wouldn’t that be something?

What has been so consistently compelling about Beats and Apple’s track records is their shared cool factor. How does the biggest corporation in the world appear to be so consistently sexy? Jimmy Iovine’s M.O. has always been about getting the cool kids first and having those peer group leaders lead the rest. He did it in breaking acts at Interscope and subsequently with Beats Electronics. Iovine observers say that this will happen again with the new acts that are discovered through this new platform, and that Apple Music is really a giant laboratory for finding the next big thing. Big acts are no longer appealing to these cool kids who are the peer group leaders of this generation. Iovine and co. need to connect with them in order to stay relevant in the ever-shifting pop cultural spectrum. Get the kids and the rest will follow.

The Beats and Apple crews should be able to identify the most intriguing new and unsigned artists and fast-track their commercial progress. They’ll scrutinize the platform not only as curators but as A&R experts and readers of the pop-cultural tea leaves. iTunes has been doing just that on certain acts for years now. And now, iTunes content guru Robert Kondrk and his editorial team will mirror what they do with the gateway page of the iTunes Store—one of the biggest looks a piece of music can get—in controlling the look and placement of product inside the streaming interface.

Artists will be posting their music both behind the Connect paywall if it’s available on iTunes and in front of it if it’s promotional in nature. This feature will enable subscribers and non-paying listeners alike to discover these new musical offerings, with the possible result that they wind up on global online radio station Beats 1, the other stations and the curated playlists that are a key part of the streaming service. Those unaffiliated artists who own their masters and publishing will get the entire 72% cut of revenue not taken by Apple, and that could constitute a big score if Apple Music breaks them. Can new artists become extremely successful without a label, with their marketing in effect done by Apple? How would such a result impact the traditional labels going forward? Apple Music could not only benefit the labels financially via a massive cash infusion but also creatively, as it becomes a potent A&R source, discovering and passing along viable new artists for further career development.

Ian Rogers is the architect of Beats 1 and the other radio stations; he also oversees the curation of the various streaming playlists, which are being assembled and constantly updated by hundreds of genre and lifestyle specialists—clearly a massive undertaking. Both teams will closely monitor activity within the Connect community of participating artists, looking for the stickiest musical offerings on both sides of the paywall; this will serve as both a creative petri dish and a springboard for the all-important hit-prediction factor. 

Can Zane Lowe, fellow ex-BBC Radio 1 colleague Julie Adenuga, Hot 97’s Ebro Darden and the Beats 1 team create and maintain a worldwide 24/7 radio stream that gains serious traction? The process will be similar to that employed by Lowe, his Radio 1 show producer James Bursey and fellow Radio 1 producers turned Beats 1 staffers Natasha Lynch and Kieran Yeates. Beats 1 won’t be research- or format-driven radio; instead, it will be personality-driven, a source for discovering great music, with a clear-cut focus on young, credible bands and artists, offering listeners a generous helping of taste and culture 24 hours a day, every day.

In a best-case scenario, Lowe and his posse could have millions of listeners responding to what they play. It’s long been the dream of virtually every artist, producer and A&R exec frustrated by radio and its fickle nature to be able to call the shots and have the listener decide if they agree with offerings presented to them that are based purely on taste. Now, it seems, a modern-day version of that dream is about to become a reality. 

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Ted Fields, Tom Whalley, Gerardo, Marc Benesch, John McClain and Suge Knight.

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