After months of build-up and anticipation, the Beats Music streaming service has officially announced its release for January 21. Billboard obtained a beta version of the music streaming service which places a heavy emphasis on radio-style programming and music curation. Here then is a step-by-step walk through of how it works.
The Beginning: Getting to know you
The first time a listener logs on, Beats Music has a bubble-like interface that asks them to pick the genres they like. There are dozens of genres, represented by these interactive bubbles shown on the top left screenshot, that users can tap to select or elmininate. Like many music services, Beats Music wants to be able to serve up music catered to individual tastes. While a minor detail, the bubbles were surprisingly fun to fiddle with. Unfortunately, once you're done selecting, this interface disappears and, for now at least, the service doesn't allow you to go back and play with it or change your preferred genres.
Once it learns which genres you're partial to, Beats serves up a home page, stocked with personalized suggestions. All the albums and playlists on this page is "blessed by humans," said Beats Music Chief Executive, Ian Rogers, in an interview with Billboard. "Someone truly loves that album that's being recommended to you. It's like the Staff Picks endcap at Amoeba Records."
Next Up: Getting to know more about you
Beats is using advanced machine learning algorithms to fine-tune what it recommends to individual listeners in its lean-back streaming radio feature. The Right Now tab (bottom left screenshot) is one way it does this. A sort of "Madlibs for music," users select where they are, what they're doing, whether they're with friends and what mood they're in. The service then serves up an endless playlist designed to suit those circumstances (bottom right). The radio algorithm is capable of generating 1.5 million customized playlists, Rogers said, many of them adjusted by staff curators. "We want to give you the right song for right now," he said.
The Discovery: Getting to like you
One of the main tabs in Beats Music is a Highlights section. These are themed playlists, built by Beats' music curation staff, many of whom are radio personalities or broadcast programmers who were hired on the basis of their genre expertise. They include former Pitchfork Media editor-in-chief Scott Plagenhoef, former digital content director at XXL Carl Chery, veteran Detroit radio music director Suzy Cole, Recording Academy music blogger Arjan Writes, former Rhino Records A&R Director Mason Williams, Los Angeles hip-hop radio personality Fuzzy Fantabulous, and Ken Tucker, a country music writer. While the service will launch with "tens of thousands" of hand-picked playlists, Beats' staff of about 30 curators are each creating three to five new playlists a week.
The Artist: Getting to hope you like me
Many pages allow listeners to say whether they like what they're hearing (heart icon) or not. It also has a comment button (top right and bottom right screenshots), so users can post the track or playlist on Facebook or Twitter.
In addition to being able to follow other listeners and Beats curators, you can also follow artists. For now, Beats does not offer additional ways to interact with artists, though there has been discussion of Beats giving artists access to fan data and possibly ways to directly engage with listeners to let them know of tour dates and even sell them tickets and merchandise -- features that are already integrated with rival services such as Rhapsody.
It's important to note that the current version we have seen is in beta, so it may lack features that could appear at launch or soon thereafter as the company updates its service.
Beats Music is slated to launch Jan. 21 on Apple's iOS, Windows Mobile, Google Android, Sonos and via Web browsers.