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Test Driving Apple Music: Learning Your Taste, Expanding On It

Billboard was on the ground in San Francisco to take a first look at Apple's new -- possibly revolutionary? -- music streaming service.

Apple Music, which combines on-demand streaming, a 24-7 global radio station and a connect function for bonus content and direct-to-fan engagement, won’t launch until the end of the month, but Billboard got a sneak peek at the new service at the June 8 Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Some 20 minutes of playtime yielded these observations:

1. Your musical taste as thumbprint: Like the finger-recognition unlock function on the iPhone 6, the initial setup for Apple Music takes a composite of your music DNA. After choosing a minimum of three overarching genres, the streaming service, its radio function and the connect icon, is curated to your individual tastes and learns as you dive deeper into the music library. So, for example, entering that you like rock, alternative and indie rock spit out a playlist that kicked off with Guided By Voices’ “Echos Myron” off of 1994’s Bee Thousand.

2. The human touch is key: Even Apple executives acknowledged the algorithmic limitations of its previous playlist functions on iTunes Radio. Enter: the global radio station, an idea that originated with chief creative officer Trent Reznor, according to Jimmy Iovine, and took some convincing. With former BBC DJ Zane Lowe at the helm, it will broadcast from three cities — New York, Los Angeles and London — and be fully human-curated. While not quite free-form, in that stations will play recurrents, it will come close. The only criteria for a spin, says Iovine: “that the music is great.”

3. Inspiration can come from the competition: Users of Songza, Rdio and Sirius XM may notice some similarities in the feel of Apple Music. Themed playlists like Apple Indie’s “Take the long way home” nod to the former, while the clean look and easy search function is akin to that of Rdio’s. As for the satellite radio giant, which boasts 30 million subscribers, Beats 1 has, at least in name, the ring of Hits 1.

4. Not ads, sponsors: Apple Music’s limited-time free option will not feature commercials per se, but rather, sponsors that will be announced at regular intervals much like NPR broadcasts its underwriters. The aim is for minimal interruption.

5. Downloads included: Subscribers will have the option to listen to music offline, while, conversely, Apple Music will match songs according to what’s already in your library.

6. Classics have their place: A quick scan of Apple Music’s genre breakdowns reveals a “classics” option for hip-hop, country, dance, rock and indie, among others. Elsewhere on the dial are channels dedicated to “crooners and cocktails” and lullabies.