Apple Music has received a lot of praise since its launch on June 30, drawing 6.5 million paying subscribers and 8.5 million users, according to numbers shared last month by Apple CEO Tim Cook. Despite its young age, that count puts Apple in second place in the streaming market, behind Spotify's 20 million paying subscribers. With the standalone YouTube Music app set to be released soon, Android users are set to suffer an embarrassment of sonic riches.
Apple had shipped one billion iOS devices as of Nov. 2014, according to a tweet by company executive Phil Schiller. The company's iOS holds a 43.6 percent share of the smartphone market, according to a comScore report from September. Android, which is used with a variety of smartphone manufacturers' products, holds over half the total smartphone market with a 52.3 percent share, with 1.4 billion people using an Android monthly, according to numbers released by Google in September. That Apple Music was able to close the gap on streaming subscribers in such a short period of time, and without more than half of the global smartphone market able to use it, certainly means trouble for all but the most popular streaming companies.
Before today, the only apps that Apple had brought to Android was (a pretty cheeky) one which helped Android users migrate their data over to a new iOS device. "We wanted it to be for everyone," says Cue when asked why the company was bringing its currently exclusive new service to a competitor's platform. "We wanted people to be able to enjoy music on their iPhone, or Android phone, or Windows computer, or Apple TV. Everyone loves music."
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One of the service's most talked-about features is Beats 1, the company's free, digital-only radio station headed up by Zane Lowe. Asked of the rumors that Beats 1 will be joined by Beats 2, 3, 4 and 5, Cue points out that the station is still shiny, and not exactly your local oldies station. "Beats 1 was something we've never done before -- people forget that sometimes. And even though it's Beats 1, it's made up of multiple stations. We broadcast from the UK, New York and LA. We're thrilled with the response." Later, Cue says the station is beginning to drive discovery, and thus its own wider popularity, too. "The ability of being able to go to radio with Zane, [have artists] doing interviews, featuring [a release] in Apple Music, adding to playlists -- it gives artists big and small an incredible opportunity." He cites Halsey as an example of an emerging artist which has benefited from attention paid on the service.
Many point to Beats 1's curatorial function as being key to the service's appeal. When services offer 30-million-plus catalogs, it's pretty easy to be overwhelmed. If phase one of the streaming revolution was conversion and habituation, the second will be defined by playing users what they want to hear, even if they don't know exactly what that is. To that end, Apple has created an editorial team that numbers in the hundreds, all creating unique playlists that are algorithmically recommended to Apple Music users. A key factor in this is the company's many local editorial teams -- groups that can create playlists for the unique tastes of people in, say Hamburg, where a friend recently pointed out that Apple Music's German playlists were impressive in their specificity. (Another label head told this reporter he had "no idea" how to get his bands featured on the playlists, and said he was almost positive that aspect of the service is purely editorially driven.)
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"You have to do it around the world," says Cue of the company's far-flung music editorial. "You really need those teams on the ground. It's pretty much every country we're in, because in order for you to give any kind of local flavor, you need people there. Algorithms help, and we do that too -- but you can't complete it without that human touch. We've committed more resources around this than anybody else. We take this very seriously. It isn't a 'checklist' item."
And then there were royalties. Long-bubbling dissatisfaction from performers and songwriters over the royalties they receive from streaming companies have made the complicated question of payment one that is central to the industry. "We're paying higher royalties than pretty much anyone in the industry that I know of. We've been a huge proponent of artists and songwriters getting paid. That's been since iTunes started, and we continue to do that," says Cue when asked of the debate. Sources say Apple pays royalties of about two to three percent higher than competitors like Spotify.