Where tiny thoughts turn into big ideas.

Beats Music and Curation

Tim Cook, in an interview with Re/Code’s Peter Kafka about the Beats deal and Beats Music’s curation:

We get a subscription music service that we believe is the first subscription service that really got it right. They had the insight early on to know how important human curation is. That technology by itself wasn’t enough — that it was the marriage of the two that would really be great and produce a feeling in people that we want to produce. They’ve also built an incredible premium headphone business that’s been tuned by experts and critical ears. We’re fans of that. It’s a reasonable-size business that’s fast-growing.

The focus on curation and editorial picks was immediately clear when Beats Music launched in January. The service’s front page featured a collection of curated playlists (handpicked by humans) provided through automatic recommendations based on user taste and listening habits.

From my original article, Why Beats Music Matters:

Computers and algorithms, in spite of modern advancements in data extraction and parsing, don’t understand things like artistic influences, song meanings, subtle references, or the “mood” of a song. Computers can’t compute emotion. They can’t understand what’s behind Dave Grohl’s “Best of You” at Wembley or why Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism is an album about long distance love. Computers don’t have the human touch, and I believe that they will never be able to fully, empathically replicate the ability to appreciate music as an artistic expression.

That’s why Beats Music hired people knowledgeable about music and uses algorithms as a tool, and not the medium: there’s more to music than data.

If the plan comes together, Beats Music has a serious chance at reinventing how music streaming services should work. I’m optimistic.

And here’s how Beats Music describes their editorial team’s efforts:

At Beats Music, our mission is to create playlists and make music recommendations based on songs that feel right together, at the right time, and for the right person… not just that sound alike.

That can’t be done with an algorithm. It requires a real human with a trained ear for blending genres and styles and a knowledge of what song comes next.

The Beats Music part of the Apple-Beats deal was highlighted in several sections of today’s press statements and interviews, suggesting that Apple (unlike what speculation implied over the past weeks) saw potential in the relatively young Beats Music service. Here’s Tim Cook in an interview with The New York Times:

“Could Eddy’s team have built a subscription service? Of course,” he said. “We could’ve built those 27 other things ourselves, too. You don’t build everything yourself. It’s not one thing that excites us here. It’s the people. It’s the service.”

Unlike subscriber numbers and country availability, music knowledge and culture can’t be quantified, but they’re extremely valuable. With Beats, Apple isn’t simply buying a popular brand of headphones and a music app – they’re investing in fashion sense, the interplay of technology and culture for music, and a team of people with a profound appreciation and understanding of music history and trends. And this drives analysts crazy because it can’t be visualized with a pie chart.