Zane Lowe Talks to His Former BBC Boss About Beats 1: 'We're Trying to Work It Out As We Go Along'

Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images For Advertising Week
Zane Lowe, Radio 1 Presenter attends Video Evolution in Music in the ITV Stage at Princess Anne room during day four of Advertising Week Europe held at BAFTA 195 Piccadilly on April 3, 2014 in London, England. 

Three months on from the launch of Apple’s Beats 1 digital radio station, its director and resident DJ Zane Lowe has admitted that the service is still in a state of evolutionary flux as it tries to find its feet in the broadcasting and music landscape.

"We’re still working this out. Time will tell," said Lowe in conversation with his former boss and controller of BBC Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra Ben Cooper at the Radio Festival 2015 in London.

"We’ve been going three months, so for me to sit here and go: ‘Well, here’s ten reasons why we need Beats 1 on Apple Music' would be to suggest that we have the answers -- I don’t. We’re trying to work it out as we go along," Lowe said, adding, "I hope there’s a place for it. I feel right now there is. It’s absolutely working right now, but this is a work in progress and over time we’ll find out exactly why [it’s needed]."

Returning to the theme, the DJ later stated: "Roles are changing and everyone is still shuffling around and working hard to get it right. But we’ll get our structure. We’ll grow up. We’re three months old and [three month old] babies make a lot of noise and they look at the world all wide eyed and they shit everywhere. And that’s kind of what Beats 1 is. It’s very, very new."
Lowe was brought in by Apple to head Beats 1 in March this year after 11 years with the BBC. The offer to relocate from London and join the California tech company was "very unexpected because I was very happy and I was in no hurry to leave the BBC or Radio 1," he told Cooper. Ultimately, however, the chance to help develop an entirely new radio and music enterprise proved too tempting.

"We can’t do what Radio 1, or other great radio stations, do in local markets in the sense that we can’t put a breakfast show on that’s going to go to galvanize an audience at a certain time of day because that time is the middle of the night somewhere else. That rhythm of life doesn't apply to us," explained Lowe. "We’re a broadcast platform on a music service. We’re in the streaming market. Not the local radio market. So when I left there was never this sense of: ‘How are we going to compete with any radio station or how are we going to even fit in?’ It was more: ‘What we are we going to do for the great of music and for the good of Apple?’"

He continued: "I was relieved when I realised that there wasn’t really an easy way to resolve those issues because it opened up the possibility of something totally new to me."  

Asked by Cooper what he considered success for Beats 1 to be, Lowe said he asked the same question to his Apple bosses, Jimmy Iovine, Trent Reznor and Eddy Cue, when discussing the job. "I said, ‘What is success to you? Because I come from a ratings system where I’m told I’m either up or down. Is that what we’re going to do? Are you going to give me [audience numbers] every day?’ And they said: ‘No. Apple don’t share analytics and numbers.’ So I said: ‘Well, how do I find out?’ And they said, ‘Noise. You go out and make as much noise as you can.’ And that’s what we have been doing. We are as loud as fuck right now. And maybe our meter isn’t an abacus. Maybe our meter is a volume meter."  

Calling Beats 1 "as far away from tradition as possible," Lowe went on to compare his first months with Apple to launching a start-up, somewhat improbably saying that the entire team chipped in with "hammering nails in the floor."

"I’d only ever inherited a spot on a radio station and we had to build this thing and we had three months to do it," he explained to a packed auditorium. "When I arrived in L.A. and went to work the next day they were like: ‘You’re late. We needed to be started months before.’ And when we finally did get started we ran around like crazy," he recalled.  

"All I cared about when it came to launch was will it execute well, and will people like it? Will they embrace it for all its flaws and all the things it needs to improve upon and the scrappiness of it? Will they see all the excitement and the intention and the passion and all the great things that we have in it? Or will they just focus on the stuff that isn’t ready? Thankfully, for the most part, they focused on the stuff that shone through."

Lowe was also quizzed by Cooper on his management style when it comes to guiding Beat’s 1 guest curators and DJs. The New Zealand-born DJ’s response was that he doesn’t guide them at all. "When I sit down and talk to Q-Tip, or Dr. Dre, or Drake, or Pharrell, or Drake, or St. Vincent, or Haim, the first thing I say you is: ‘You do it. Do whatever you want. Play whatever you want. Talk to whoever you want. Dress it up however you want and that’s what’s happening," said Lowe, calling artist’s individual shows "an extension of their creative self."

As for Lowe’s own guiding ethos for the future of Beats 1, he said it boils down to simply supporting great new music. "Because that’s what I know and that’s Trent Reznor and Jimmy Iovine and Eddy Cue told me to do. They were like: ‘It’s about music. We’re here for music. Focus on music. Play great music and make as much noise as you possibly can for music."