Apple reportedly wants to get rid of free on-demand music

Love free stuff? Then you won’t like Apple’s new music subscription service, which the company is expected to launch later this year. Apple is planning to launch the service without a free tier, and instead plans to charge every user after a limited free trial, according to a Recode report.

That’s similar to Beats Music, which Apple got its hands on as part of the $3 billion Beats acquisition last year. But it’s very different from Spotify, the current industry leader. Spotify has 15 million paying users worldwide, and at least 45 million additional users tune into the service’s free, ad-supported tier.

Spotify’s ad-supported tier has been so successful that competing services have started to embrace free music as well. Rdio, for example, long resisted giving music away for free, but the company now has a free radio service that aims to pull in users, with the goal of eventually converting them into paying subscribers.

However, Recode reports that label executives are increasingly growing frustrated with those free tiers, with some blaming them for the decline in music downloads. Apple wants to counter that trend with a $8 service, which is expected to be closely tied into iTunes and iOS.

Some in the industry would also question that notion, and instead argue that there are simply different price points for different types of users. Rhapsody has been trying to win over budget-conscious users with a $5 radio tier that is essentially like a Pandora without ands, and Deezer has started to charge audiophiles as much as $15 per month for lossless FLAC streams.

Deezer North America CEO Tyler Goldman told me at CES this year that he doesn’t believe in just one package and price for every type of user. Tyler Goldman “That silver bullet strategy doesn’t work,” he said.

Robots vs. pop stars: Who is better at curating your music?

The Apple rumor mill is getting its groove on these days as new details appear about a revamped streaming service slated to be launched in the coming months. 9to5Mac reported last week that Apple is working on a new music service that uses some of Beats Music’s technology, but is going to be deeply integrated into iTunes and iOS.

Business Insider followed up with another report Monday, suggesting that the project will feature curated streams from well-known musicians. [company]Apple[/company] also recently hired BBC Radio DJ Zane Lowe, and is looking for music journalists who could be writing copy for the new service. All of this suggests that the company is looking to keep Beats Music’s focus on human curation and build a more radio-like experience, possibly with help from many music celebrities.

The question is: Do music fans really want this? Do musicians make for good DJs, and do well-known names help to unlock the 30-plus million song catalog of a music streaming service?

Or would algorithms simply do a better job?

Musicologists and trillions of data points

The debate over human versus automated curation is almost as old as online music itself. [company]Pandora[/company] was one of the first services to embrace the idea of human curation in a personalized streaming environment when it built its Music Genome Project back in 1999.

The idea at the time was to not simply play songs because algorithms deemed them as a logical choice based on the behavior of other users, but actually figure out how each song sounds, which instruments it features and which tempo it uses. Pandora hired dozens of curators to catalog more than one million songs based on up to 450 musical criteria, and its website describes these curators like this:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]“The typical music analyst working on the Music Genome Project has a four-year degree in music theory, composition or performance, has passed through a selective screening process and has completed intensive training in the Music Genome’s rigorous and precise methodology. To qualify for the work, analysts must have a firm grounding in music theory, including familiarity with a wide range of styles and sounds.”[/blockquote]

Today, Pandora still relies on the Music Genome Project, but it is also using algorithms and data to make its playlists work.

Others took a different approach and ditched the human expert altogether, instead relying on the wisdom of the crowds and big data analysis to generate that perfect playlist. [company]The Echo Nest[/company], for example, which was acquired by Spotify a year ago, is using close to 1.2 trillion data points on more than 36 million songs to automatically generate playlists for Spotify and other services. The Echo Nest co-founder Brian Whitman will be at our Structure Data conference in New York next month to tell us how he wants to use all that data to reinvent the music industry.

Park rangers, not gatekeepers

Lately, the pendulum has swung back to human curation, with Beats putting a heavy emphasis on its expert curators, and Slacker building a radio-like experience around YouTube stars and other personalities. The reports about Apple’s plans now seem to suggest that the company wants to go further down that road, embracing stars to become both brand ambassadors and actual curators of your music.

However, not everyone is convinced that this is a good idea. Online music industry veteran Tim Quirk, who used to head music programming for pioneering streaming service Rhapsody and then did the same thing for Google Play Music, took to Twitter today to object to the idea that musicians make good curators. Here are some highlights of his arguments:

[pullquote person=”” attribution=”” id=”917022″]Will the future of music look like Sirius XM or like Netflix?[/pullquote]

Of course, many will argue that there is value to expertise, and point to great radio DJs, so of which even are musicians. That’s why I asked Quirk what it takes to bring this kind of personality-driven curation to streaming services. His answer:

“Subtract the personalities. Seriously. They need curation that doesn’t brag about itself.”

In the end, this may all come down to the question what music services want to be, and how they plan to appeal to millions of consumers who have thus far shied away from music subscriptions. Do they want to be more like traditional radio and guide listeners through a catalog of millions of songs? Or do they want to be the celestial jukebox that brings millions of songs to your fingertips, ready for you to go on your own adventure?

In other words: Will the future of music look like Sirius XM or like Netflix? The first company to find a compelling answer to that question may be able to really take music subscriptions mainstream — with or without celebrity DJs.

Soon non-developers will be able to try beta versions of iOS

If you want to check out what Apple’s cooking up in the next update of iOS, you currently have to sign up for its $99 per year developer program or give your device UDID to a sketchy service in order to install public beta builds on your iPhone or iPad. That’s changing soon: According to the reliable Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac, Apple is planning to extend its Appleseed public beta program to iOS starting with version iOS 8.3 next month.

iOS 8.3 is already public and in the hands of developers. [company]Apple[/company] is probably not going to launch a public beta of iOS 9 or other major releases before they’re announced. Gurman points out that iOS 8.4 will probably include Apple’s new streaming music service, so beta testers may get first access to the next episode of Beats Music.

Apple started offering public beta versions of its desktop OS last year, allowing Mac users to check out OS X Yosemite before it was officially launched. Not only does this keep hardcore [company]Apple[/company] fans happy, but it can also help squash bugs, which according to anecdotal evidence, seem to be increasing in recent years due to Apple’s aggressive release schedule. Last fall, Apple pushed an embarrassing incremental iOS update that killed cellular service for many iPhone users, for instance. The OS X beta program was limited to the first million users to sign up, so it’s possible the iOS beta program will have a cap too.

Here’s the Appleseed landing page and here’s the OS X beta signup page. Keep an eye on them if you want to be one of the first non-Apple employees to check out iOS 8.3.

 

Apple reportedly integrating Beats streaming into iOS and iTunes

After Beats was purchased in 2014, and even before then, one main question facing Apple is when the company plans to come out with a streaming music service. According to a new report from ace Apple reporter Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac, the company has been working to integrate Beats Music streaming into iOS, iTunes, and Apple TV, ahead of a launch that was planned for March, but now looks more likely to be June.

According to Gurman, Apple has decided to largely ditch the existing Beats Music brand on iPhone and iPad, instead choosing to integrate streaming features into the pre-installed Music app, which plays locally stored music and is still surprisingly popular.

One key feature for the service sounds a lot like an expansion of iTunes Match: Users will be able to upload current Beats or iTunes music libraries with the new service, which will merge those songs with iTunes in the Cloud, and users will be able to choose specific tracks or artists to download onto their iPhone or iPad’s local storage.

Although the new apps will reportedly ditch the black-and-red Beats color scheme, Apple appears poised to continue the Beats focus on human-curated playlists. Gurman also indicated that Apple may continue to try to build a music-focused social network in the Music app — remember that Apple tried and failed to do that before, with its Ping service.

Another surprise: Apple could be building a Beats Music app for Android in-house. There’s an existing Beats Music Android app, but Gurman reported that “Apple engineers are currently working on an Android app for the new Apple-branded service.” Apparently, there’s been a bit of discord stemming from the integration of Beats engineers and Apple engineers and Beats integration has been “not going so well.”

9to5Mac said a source warned them that there could be several employee departures from Apple’s services division in the near future. Remember that Apple’s core cloud infrastructure experts are distributed among teams, rather than in a single division, and pre-installing and promoting a streaming music service on up to 74.5 million iPhones a quarter would appear to require strong cloud infrastructure on the server side.

Apple has a long history in digital music going back to the introduction of iTunes. While only Apple’s board knows if Apple spent $3.2 billion on Beats for its profitable headphones business or its nascent music streaming service, this report appears to indicate that much of the software developed by Beats while it was independent has been ditched for code written by Apple. Beats headphones fit in very well with Apple’s main product lines — they’re complimentary high-margin luxury goods, whereas the Beats Music service might not have anything that Apple couldn’t have done itself, except for playlists curated by Dr. Dre’s friends.

As for pricing the service, Gurman’s report is less certain, but believes that the service could cost $7.99 a month, which would undercut the $9.99 price charge by Spotify, Google Play Music, and Rdio.

 

 

Report claims Beats Music is raising another $60 – $100 million, company denies it

Beats Music, the newly-launched music subscription service spearheaded by Jimmy Iovine, is in the midst of raising another $60 million to $100 million in funding, according to a Billboard report that notes that the company spent tens of millions on advertising, including its Super Bowl TV spot. However, a Beats Music spokesperson denied those claims, sending us the following statement via email: “Beats Music is not in any active process of raising more funding.” Billboard also reported that some in the music industry are disappointed by Beats Music’s uptake, while insiders unsurprisingly say that first numbers exceeded expectations.
Updated at 10:48am with a statement from Beats Music.