Beats Music, while still under wraps, has been methodically building up its curation team during the past year, hiring genre experts and programmers, and giving clues to how the service plans to differentiate itself from the pack when it launches later this year.
The team, according to sources, includes former Pitchfork Media editor in chief Scott Plagenhoef, former BET Digital executive editor 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 country music writer Ken Tucker.
The group is reporting to Julie Pilat, who joined Beats Music on Aug. 6 as head of music for curation and artist development. Pilat had been a top executive at Clear Channel Communications, serving as music director for KIIS-FM Los Angeles as well as PD for KYSR and alternative brand coordinator for Clear Channel.
At Beats, Pilat works with Brian Frank, the Santa Monica, Calif., company’s global head of content, who previously worked with Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine as head of alternative rock marketing at Interscope.
Beats declined to comment on the appointments or provide details about its approach to helping listeners solve the programming problem that plagues customers of existing services: what to listen to next.
Looking at the list of hires, part of that answer lies in the resumes of the team members, many of whom recently changed their LinkedIn and other online social profiles to reflect their employment status at Beats. Plagenhoef, hired in June 2012, is head of programming. Chery is head of hip-hop and R&B programming. Cole heads up rock and alternative programming. Writes programs pop and dance music, Tucker heads up country and Christian music, and Williams is in charge of catalog music. While it’s unclear what Fantabulous’ role will be, the KPWR Los Angeles DJ is well-regarded as a hip-hop programmer. All except Pilat were brought on in 2012.
Almost everyone on Beats’ curation team has a reputation as a genre expert. Many are professional music programmers who have decided what millions of people in major markets hear on the radio. Others have played roles in directing listeners to what’s up and coming in their respective music scenes. None are Silicon Valley technologists.
That’s not to say technology won’t be a component. The company launched a Web page in late July advertising 13 job openings for engineers and designers at its San Francisco office. Those ads have a heavy emphasis on data management, recommendations driven by machine learning, as well as editorial content, presumably to be served up by its team of programmers, each with his or her own personalities, fans and followers.
This fits into Beats Music CEO Ian Rogers’ long-standing belief that the next phase of the digital revolution is “the era of trusted brands.” With so many options vying for attention and a bewildering array of entertainment choices, consumers will fall back on people and brands they identify with and trust.
During a speech in October 2011, Rogers predicted that “15 years from now we will all rely on a set of trusted brands to deliver us our content. Each of us will probably get more than 75% of our content from less than 10 brands that we follow. What draws us to these brands is trust, trust that was hard-earned by honesty and the delivery of value in return for our precious time.”
Today, there’s a little more than 13 years left in Rogers’ timeline to ensure that Beats Music will be one of those trusted brands.