For the next 15 years, Schusser spearheaded iTunes’ international growth (including starting the iTunes Music Festival in the United Kingdom) from Apple’s London office. By last year, when he got the call to take over Apple Music, he had been involved in major product decisions surrounding all of Apple’s music initiatives for years. “He helped make Apple a presence in the artist community in Europe, and he’s very respected for the way he has worked with labels on artist projects and new releases,” says Thomas Hesse, the founder/CEO of JAMM Music who worked with Schusser as president of global digital business at Sony Music.
Schusser first endeavored “to plan our editorial a little better, to look at our playlist strategy, the look and feel, the brand,” he says. He installed a group of trusted confidantes to lead new initiatives throughout Apple Music and launched editorial, artist relations and music publishing divisions to take better advantage of Apple’s long-standing artist relationships. In addition to Walsh, Newman and Tracey Hannelly, senior director of international for the App Store, he promoted Beats 1 hosts Ebro Darden and Zane Lowe. Darden runs Apple Music’s global hip-hop and R&B initiatives; Lowe leads a new artist relations team with fellow global creative director Larry Jackson, an Iovine holdover many didn’t expect would stay after his boss’ departure.
Last summer, Schusser shifted the service away from Apple’s traditional yearly update cycle (typically when the latest major iOS update is released in September) into a more consistent rhythm, launching top 100 charts and new personalized playlists in the past year. Despite the company’s historically selective attitude toward partnerships, it has struck deals with companies including American Airlines, Verizon and Amazon that put Apple Music in front of more potential customers than ever. Last December, Apple Music became available on Alexa, and in January, it partnered with Verizon to make the service free for customers with certain unlimited cellphone plans.
During the past nine months, Apple also has redesigned or rebranded many of its playlists as it prepares to make them more of a focus. Rap Life, for example -- a revamp of The A-List: Hip-Hop, one of Apple Music’s best-performing playlists -- will be featured daily during segments on Darden’s Beats 1 show and weekly on a series highlighting its music. “We’ve got to continue to put [artists’] music in front of the biggest possible audience,” says Newman. “We would be doing them a disservice if all we did was lean into their body of work.” While Apple Music still believes culture, not algorithms, will win, Schusser says the company is also “actively looking” at increasing the number of its personalized playlists.
So far, the labels seem to approve of the changes he’s instituting. “The label relations team has been going to the labels and presenting the changes so they really understand what changed and how,” says Schusser. Multiple label sources praise his guiding hand, noting that the company is now more open and engaging.
“Oliver continues to be a tremendous partner and friend who has brought a broad global perspective to the role,” says Michael Nash, executive vp digital strategy at Universal Music Group. “He has expanded Apple Music’s culture of creative experimentation while building upon its strong track record of collaboration with labels and artists.”
Schusser also has cut back on what wasn’t working. Eight months into his tenure, Apple Music shut down music-based social network Connect, one of the three key features touted in 2015 at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference -- and widely considered its biggest failure to date. “We’re not a social media platform,” says Newman.