If the impression we came away with after our sit-down with Apple Music’s Jimmy Iovine, Ian Rogers and Larry Jackson can be summarized in a word, that word would be “optimism.” While much of the coverage of their forthcoming offerings has focused on the on-demand streaming component, the execs are most excited about an overall “ecosystem” that they hope will offer an unprecedented platform for new artists and leverage its free and paid elements in an entirely new way.

It’s also noteworthy that all three, in the course of the conversation, reached back to key moments in their own development as guideposts for the service—particularly as regards the power of radio to knock down barriers and bring great music to the world. It was in these moments that the musical passion underlying this enormously well capitalized venture was most evident.

Whether or not 24/7 station Beats 1, with ex-BBC Radio 1 tastemaker maker Zane Lowe as its public face, can move the needle for breaking acts (in tandem with social element Apple Connect) is the subject of much debate at present. After all, some observers say, radio outside the top hits-driven formats reaches a relatively small audience—and it’s the big acts that draw consumers to digital services.

Team Apple is betting otherwise, arguing that while pop’s megastars can be streamed anywhere, their curated offerings will create real traction.

Will Apple Music prove as transformative as they hope and believe it can be? We won’t know until well after it debuts on 6/30. Iovine and team are committed, they say, to a meaningful fusion of culture and technology—as Iovine puts it, “the soul in the machine”—but unlike some others in the digital space, they aren’t declaring some kind of top-down revolution. What they are declaring is their faith in the “power of new music.”

How does your team work together? What do the various people contribute?
Jimmy Iovine: We’re really inside Apple. We work very closely with Robert Kondrk—he’s also at the center of this whole thing; he’s incredible. He’s a big part of this. And Eddy [Cue], and the whole Beats crew. David Dorn, the iTunes people. Larry and I dabble in everything. Radio is Zane Lowe and Ian Rogers and the people they’ve hired.

A big part of the idea is to help artists that are slightly smothered right now and that are really good—to give them a platform.

People can say that, but you have to know how to do it and have a feel for it. We put together a team that does.

Beats 1’s gonna play hit records—but it’s gonna play a lot of music. It’s Zane and Julie [Adenuga] from London; these are people that are really concerned about new music and helping to break down the barriers to entry.

It’s been fascinating talking to people at the Worldwide Developers’ Conference (WWDC) and here—when you ask them what their favorite part of the service is, they all say the same thing: Beats 1.
JI: Because it’s never been done before. Ian should talk about that.

Ian Rogers: Apple makes things really simple. Beats 1 is just that—it takes everything Jimmy just said and puts it into one button. You hit the button and you’re gonna get new music, and you’re gonna get great music in front of average music. And you’re gonna get people telling you about the music. It’s the personification of everything that we’re talking about.

Beats Music did have a soul, but there was no personality presenting it.

So how does the radio part work in tandem with the other pieces of it?
JI: If something is on Connect and the audience is really feeling it, we have a team watching that. So the best way to Radio for a young artist is through Connect.

Right now it’s tough if you’re a young artist. You go on [a site] where there are 100k artists—we’ll have that too, but we’ll also have something to do with it. It’s not just a black hole. This will have a bit of a rhyme or reason to it. And every time you try to do that, somebody says, “That’s because you’re old-school.” Well, maybe I am. Maybe we are.

But the fact is we’re trying to make music move a bit, and let whatever’s out there come to the top a bit and have a better shot.

Because the labels are signing less, stations are playing less. In fairness to the labels, it’s hard to stay with an artist for three albums. I ran a label. Let’s put it this way: It was hard for me, from what I’ve seen. This could help labels stay with young bands as well.

So with Connect you’ll have a laboratory, and if something begins to happen and develops an audience.
JI: Right! We’re not signing anybody; we’re not a record company. We’re an exposure company, exposing [artists] to an audience. There are records on SoundCloud that are fabulous, but nobody’s doing anything about it. Maybe they’re left-of-center. But we can play anything we want. We have more research, people listening on Connect. A lot of it will come there. A lot of it will come from labels playing music for our guys.

I’m gonna get really boring here: The accent is on the song and the record. And the artist, of course. But the emphasis is on great records. That takes precedence over anything.

And this is music. What team is running it? How is it musical, and how does it work? I remember the first day one of these big companies came. One of the first things they said to me was, “We’re just a utility.” No shit! They’re still a utility. They don’t know about this kind of stuff. When people ask, what’s the difference between Apple and Rdio or whatever? It’s simple: It’s the people who are doing it.

And by the way, Apple makes great technology. And they’ll improve it and come up with different things that no one else has. But we’re getting in the streaming business. What we want is something that works and works great—and Apple’s great. But then what do you do with it?

I’ve been a fan of Beats Music since I got my subscription.
JI: That’s a pup. It came out in January [2014], Tim [Cook] told me he wanted to buy the company in February, and I stopped working on it on February 2. Because I was gonna build something new! But Beats had soul. And now we’re gonna put more soul in the machine. When I made Beats, people said, “Oh, this is wrong. This is crazy.” Who gives a shit? You run your own race.

My whole thing was, “Get us into Apple and we can build something extraordinary.” We’re not building the tech on this—Apple is.

Larry Jackson:
You have people who have an innate understanding of culture at a tech company for the first time. I can’t believe that nobody’s talking about this.

That seems like the hook for this whole endeavor, but how do you make people understand the concept? What’s the education process to the consumer? When the iPad first came out, people didn’t know they needed a tablet.

JI: I’m looking at it from the perspective of the consumer and the artist.

Will the advertising campaign be that educational process to the consumer, to say, “This is what streaming is”?
JI: Part of it. We’re gonna advertise Radio first. We showed the ad at the end of the keynote. So yeah, we’re gonna explain that. Part of it is that it’s all the songs in the world on a leash. But it’s an ecosystem. But they don’t know what we’re talking about [yet]. The thing about this is, it’s in 100 countries. I remember when Radio Caroline came out, they wouldn’t play this music in England and they just busted rock & roll open there. That’s what this is.

IR: Beats 1 will be in all those countries, and yes, it’s in English. Will it be the #1 station in Japan? Probably not. But will there be that rock & roll, transistor-radio moment, where there’s some kid under his covers listening to Beats 1 while his parents don’t know? Yes, that will happen.

And that’s culture. Wait until you hear the station—we haven’t really put it out there because we want it to come out more organically. But this is not just another commercial radio station, and this is not a podcast.

The thing that really struck me when you put everything together—Beats 1 plus Apple Music—is that it’s exactly what we grew up with. We grew up with FM music driving record sales or MTV driving CD sales or FM and word of mouth and the Internet driving digital download sales. It’s always been free promotional experiences driving to a paid experience, and a reason to pay.

The problem with the subscription services that have had a free piece to date is, your promotional content is exactly the same as your commercial content. That’s not promotional content at that point; that’s just “pay to get rid of the ads.” Between Connect and Beats 1 and even the free trial, what you have is a free promotional experience that drives to paid consumption. That’s not a music service; that’s a music business.

Think about what Zane Lowe did on the BBC premiering songs. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. When he premieres a song on Beats 1, that song will either be available on Connect, or the album’s available for pre-order on iTunes, or the single’s available for streaming on the service—and that’s not up to us. That’s a decision the label makes.

The problem for me with everything that’s out there is, it’s one or the other. Do you want promotion or do you want to get paid? Nobody gives you both. This is a fucking ecosystem.

JI: There’s somebody who’s using promotion to build their own business that has nothing to do with yours. At least when you had MTV, people would play a record and it would sell. Now there are companies taking advantage of artists.

IR: Because promotion is consumption.

JI: Exactly. That works for the company but not for the artists or the labels.

Do you see the rotations being more like U.S. radio, where they’re for a long time, or very short windows, as in the U.K.?
IR: Good question. Those are the debates we’re having right now. It will feel distinct. It won’t feel like U.S. radio or BBC.

JI: We give a shit about this stuff. If I were you guys, I would talk about the Radio and Connect, because a streaming service is a streaming service. One runs a little better than another. That’s where the health of the industry is gonna be, but you’ve gotta be of service to people—you can’t just be a service.

Do you see this platform as the future of artist development?
IR: Definitely. That’s the ecosystem Jimmy described. Also, we have Beats 1 and, just in the U.S., 60 other channels. And we’ve done that in more than 100 countries. So you get local programming in all those territories. First of all, it allows Beats 1 to be itself; you don’t have to be all things to all people. We can break artists of all kinds of genres.

The kinds of trials we did with AT&T lead to far more conversion than the 14-day trial. You’re actually giving away less free music, not more. It’s an easy trade-off; the math is a no-brainer. It’s not free music. It’s a better conversion.

JI: Labels are betting on themselves.

IR: We raised the royalty overall. If Spotify is 70% all in, the 58% that’s been written about is the label component; we actually pay more than statutory
on publishing. It’s really 72% back to rights holders all in, so we pay more than anyone else. From the labels’ perspective, it’s easy to do three months free to get people into this ecosystem. The volume of that additional revenue over time is really significant.

So I sign up and give my Apple I.D.
IR: Think about how many times you say yes to 99 cents or more on your phone—a subscription to an app, a book, a movie. We do it all the time. We all have that relationship.

If there’s one primary misconception in the coverage so far that you’d like to correct, what would it be?
IR: The only one that was irresponsibly inaccurate was saying we pay 58% when Spotify pays 70%. I’ve actually seen a lot of people get it right.

JI: Some of the technology exists in other places, but we have to make it so you request a song and you get it. That’s what streaming services do. Some of the technology existed before and we think Apple’s come up with some new things.

IR: One thing nobody’s talking about: We’ve done what Jimmy was talking about internationally. We took the entire Beats Music and Apple editorial teams, the entire Apple international editorial team, which was already in 119 countries, and we doubled it in size. No one’s even close to us. We said, “Omigod, we have to take Jimmy’s vision on curation and do it in every country.” It’s an insane undertaking.

JI: The person who first talked about curation in streaming services is sitting in front of you. When they were telling me, “This is a utility,” I said, “It’s not gonna work only as a utility. There needs to be curation. People want to know if the right song is coming on.”

I was trying to explain to someone why I liked Beats Music so much—it’s that when you go to the “For You” page, it’s like showing up at a friend’s house and having them put on a record they know you’ll love.
JI: And you want that person’s list! Not all curation is equal.

How do you get that message to consumers?
JI: We’ve got a big platform. We’ll be talking about it on the Radio; we’ll be talking about it in ads around the world. And people are gonna use it—they’re not gonna know exactly why they like it more, but I think they’re gonna like it more. We’re gonna promote and market it. I know how to do that!

IR: This is the first time Apple has invested in marketing music since the [iTunes] Silhouettes campaign, and that marketing sits with Jimmy.

JI: Yeah, we’re gonna market it! This is much more musical than the other services—forgive me. It’s much more about getting music heard and getting it in the system, and listening to what consumers like and pushing things out. Who wants to upload your music to a black hole?

IR: We really have spent most of the last year improving the new product rather than investing in either the existing iTunes Radio or Beats Music—we’ve been of the mindset of just keeping them alive while we work on something new. We all love the playlists in Beats Music and all feel they have a soul, but there weren’t enough of them and they didn’t change frequently enough. And there was no hope of it being international.

We’ve gone all the way in that. If you think about all those spaces like “running” and “entertaining” and “getting it on,” and all that, it’s totally the right idea, but there hasn’t been enough content. In the new service we’ve gone to where there’s anything like that, internationally, and there’s something new every day. If you’re a runner and you go running every morning, there’s a new playlist every day. What we know from the consumer is that they get used to whatever rhythm we give them. If they know it updates every day, they’ll check it every day. If you go there three times in three days and nothing’s changed, you’ll never go back. We’ve got all of that—think of the volume.

JI: The great producers now, the best ones that we worked with at Interscope, the best were not the ones that thought of formats. They went in and made music. Nirvana wasn’t thinking of a format. So to have a station out there that’s in 100 countries where if you make this extraordinary record that doesn’t fit somewhere, it’s not gonna sit behind a wall. We’re not gonna be perfect; we’re not gonna get to all of it. But we’re gonna get to as much of it as we can and give it a real chance. That’s it.

IR: And we have Beats 1, which is gonna be gigantic. But the evolution on the iTunes Radio format is, it had a huge amount of stations but nowhere to promote them.

LJ: The reason Jimmy attracted me to come here was I didn’t feel there was a place for me at a major label anymore. I was beating my head against a wall to make anybody give a shit about what I signed.

JI: Larry signed Lana Del Rey, Aloe Blacc—left-of-center stuff.

LJ: I kept hearing “no.” I kept hearing, “It’s not a hit. Can you come back with something that sounds like Pharrell?” To me the conversation starts with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the first overhaul of the communications system since 1934. Clinton did it. It was driven by Al Gore, who had a vision for where the Internet was going. It was meant to open up competition. Before you had InterCity, Emmis, Chancellor, Evergreen, all the mom-and-pop guys who let these stations be individual pillars for their communities and have their own voice. Then all of a sudden, 10 years later, you’ve got Clear Channel out of Texas having bought all these clusters up, and it microwaved all the nutrients out of these particular markets.

Here I am as an A&R guy in the 2000s trying to get some fucking records on the radio, and I’m hearing that it’s not cookie-cutter enough. Michelle
Santosuosso was the first person to ever give me a job. What she and Keith Naftaly did at the time was very innovative; they actually set the blueprint for what Beats 1 will be. Keith had The Wake-Up Show; they had Soul Assassins Radio. They gave artists a voice and platform to be able to do that. Then Hot 97 and Power 106 came along, and Radio 1. Michelle and Keith were the pioneers of that, and were in the 21st century tradition of doing that.

To Jimmy’s point about Connect, for an artist who’s like an Aloe Blacc or a Lana Del Rey, or for the next Chris Blackwell or David Geffen, where do they go if they want to have something heard? Who do they go to? They sign to a major that wants a quick fix? There are no more chairs left in this musical-chairs game. So we’re opening it up for creatives to have a platform and actually be heard at the biggest company in the world.

You’re trying to create stationality here, where beyond the particulars of the music listeners have something to connect to viscerally.

IR: And stick with.

JI: One thing about Spotify or these companies that have this free thing, is it’s all geared to the big acts. Let’s say you write your first hit and you’re 21 years old and broke, and you live in St. Clair, Michigan. You get your first hit, and you get a chance at making some money, and 80% of the streams are free. So what is this, World War II? Are they supposed to make it better for future generations? We’re not fighting fascism here. Let the guys get paid, instead of building your business on their backs. Some guy from Rdio came out and said [about us], “So what, it’s not innovative.” He came from Amazon! That’s like me running Nathan’s.

I think the overall vibe has been the truth. A lot of the things have been seen before. They haven’t seen the Radio and what it’s going to do. But they’ve also said that we have an advantage, and we do. And we’re gonna use that advantage. We have credit cards; we have Apple. People don’t care that there are six streaming services; they’re gonna want the one they know.

Dre and I just put $75 million into the marriage of liberal arts and technology at USC. We have an entire academy dedicated to it.

LJ: You have to foster it, because it didn’t exist. Drake was onstage [at the WWDC], and we realized from a cultural perspective, we’re trying to increase the odds, and he broke because he found a way to harness SoundCloud to become the top guy there. Now he’s the top guy on every streaming service. It wasn’t an accident.

A fascinating conversation with a renaissance man (6/21a)
Iconic arena is packed again. (6/21a)
He's SPAC-ed up and ready to move. (6/21a)
Out and proud (6/21a)
An inspiring success story (6/21a)
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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