News of Ian Rogers’ departure from Beats 1 for an unspecified job in Europe came as a surprise to the entire music industry, including his coworkers, sources tell Billboard.
The veteran digital-music executive, who has worked with the Beastie Boys, Yahoo Music and his own Topspin artist-to-fan platform over the years, gave no indication of wanting to leave until his abrupt announcement to the company two weeks ago. The news was broken by the Financial Times early Friday (August 28). Rogers' last day is unclear at the moment, though an insider suggests he could be around for "a couple more weeks."
Rogers’ role at Beats -- technically, he was Senior Director at Apple Music, a position that saw him spearheading the development of the station and hiring chief curator Zane Lowe -- seemed to be his dream job. "Seeing Apple Music on stage at WWDC this month … it was hard not to feel like the last 20+ years was leading to this day," he wrote on his blog the day before the service’s June 30 launch. He was the one who proudly led journalists through demonstrations in advance of its launch, and in June, he was front and center at the Apple press conference where the service was officially announced. A source said he was “obsessed” with the station and elated at its immediate critical success.
Rogers’ Twitter feed, which went into overdrive around the launch of Beats 1, contains just a handful of Tweets unrelated to the station amid hundreds posted from London and Apple’s Cupertino, California base, as well as his Los Angeles home.
But he sent a jokey tweet on Friday that simply said “Europe” and contained a photo of the ‘80s hair metal band Europe -- and, even more amusingly, a link to the band’s iTunes page. (Apple had no comment beyond confirming his departure; Rogers declined Billboard’s requests for comment.)
— ian c rogers (@iancr) August 28, 2015
While many reports said that Rogers is leaving for a European company, a source clarified to Billboard that he said he’s moving to Europe to work for an unspecified company outside of the music business -- without specifying where that company is based. The source added that Rogers said the opportunity was too good to resist.
Mark Mulligan, an analyst with Midia Research, played down the impact Rogers' departure will have at Beats. "While Ian will clearly be missed, the organizational structure of Apple Music probably doesn't need a CEO-level person," he tells Billboard. "It's just one service within Apple's large portfolio of services. In a smaller organization Ian's departure would be felt much more than it will in Apple, where no person is bigger than the project."
Whatever Rogers' motivation, it seems to be personal. He may have been uncomfortable in Apple’s corporate culture. But there’s no question that Beats 1 has been given an extraordinary amount of freedom with its programming, profile and (not least) its budget. It’s rare for such adventurous programming to receive such a high-profile platform.
Nor does money seem to be a factor. Rogers presumably received a payout when Beats was acquired by Apple for $3 billion -- and he sold Topspin, in which he was a key shareholder, to Beats in 2014 for an undisclosed sum. Yet in leaving Apple, he’s leaving quite a lot of money behind.
On the basis of Beat 1’s success thus far, he’s also leaving behind a job well done.