Speaking of Apple Music and Billie Eilish, Tim Ingham, writing at Music Business Worldwide, has an interview with Zane Lowe. It's a good interview that covers a range of topics from how Lowe builds relationships with artists to what differentiates Apple Music and what they see in Billie Eilish.
An artist like Billie Eilish thinks in sounds, she thinks in colors, she thinks in visuals, she thinks in collaborations, she thinks in all kinds of different forms of creativity. When you’re dealing with an artist like that, it opens all these other areas that you can help build things around.
With Billie, there’s color everywhere, this attitude and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really interesting.’ At Apple, because of where we’ve all come from, we understand streaming, but [we’re thinking], ‘How can we make a streaming service that is deeper and more layered and speaks to the aspects of music we grew up loving?’
I don’t ever want to look back on my time in the streaming era and think, ‘Yeah man, great job at just building a utility.’
Functionality is so important; [a service] needs to work and it needs to be intuitive. But there should 100% be room for creative discovery and it should be 100% driven by the artists, or at least in collaboration with artists.
See also: this interview with Billie Eilish and her brother/co-writer Finneas and Zane Lowe from last month. It was originally posted on Beats 1 but you can also watch the YouTube video below.
Apple and Billie Eilish, whose highly anticipated album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (out March 29) has set a new record for pre-adds on Apple Music, have launched an interesting new kind of partnership on the company's streaming service. At this link (which is not the same as the standard artist page for Billie Eilish on Apple Music), you'll find a custom page featuring an exclusive music video for you should see me in a crown, the upcoming album that you can pre-add to your library, an Essentials playlist for Billie Eilish's previous hits, two Beats 1 interviews, and, for the first time on Apple Music (that I can recall), a link to buy a limited edition merch collection.
The merch drop is available at this page, which is a Shopify store with Apple Music branding that offers a t-shirt and hoodie designed by streetwear artist Don C, featuring Takashi Murakami's artwork from the aforementioned music video. The purchase flow features Apple Pay support; both the website and email receipts contain links to watch the video, pre-add the album, and listen to the Essentials playlist on Apple Music.
For a while now, I've been arguing that Apple Music should offer the ability to buy exclusive merch and concert tickets to support your favorite artists without leaving the app. The move would fit nicely with Apple's growing focus on services (you have to assume the company would take a cut from every transaction), it would increase the lock-in aspect of Apple Music (because you can only get those exclusive extras on Apple's service), and it would provide artists with an integrated, more effective solution to connect with fans directly than yet another attempt at social networking.
This collaboration with Billie Eilish feels like a first step in that direction, with Apple actively promoting the limited edition sale and embedding different types of exclusive content (video, merch, Beats 1 interviews) in a single custom page. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple continues to test this approach with a handful of other artists who have major releases coming up in 2019.
Today Apple has rolled out an update to the Browse tab in Apple Music, which all users should see soon. The new Browse tab surfaces a lot more content up front without requiring tapping through other menus first; it does, however, retain the same basic design language and feel as before.
In a lengthy response, Apple has addressed many of the allegations leveled against it by Spotify earlier this week. As we reported, Spotify has filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging that Apple’s treatment of the music streaming service is unfair and anti-competitive. Today, Apple fired back with a response to many of Spotify’s contentions.
Apple denies it has blocked access to its products and updates. To the contrary, the company says it has approved over 200 updates to Spotify’s app and reached out to inquire about the adoption of features like Siri and AirPlay 2. Apple says the only time it has requested changes to Spotify’s apps is when the company ‘has tried to sidestep the same rules that every other app follows.’
Apple also takes issue with what it characterizes as Spotify’s desire for the benefits of a free app without being free. Long gone are the days when apps were either free or paid. Spotify, like many other apps, offers a free music streaming tier. Spotify doesn’t pay Apple anything for those free users or users that sign up for streaming through other channels like mobile carriers. For Spotify’s paid subscribers, Apple receives 30% in year one and 15% after that for access to its platform and payment system, which the company says Spotify is unfairly trying to sidestep.
Finally, Apple claims that Spotify’s complaints against it are just one facet of a pattern of actions that are in Spotify’s economic interests but are damaging to musicians and the music industry. As evidence of this, Apple raises recent moves by Spotify against songwriters after the US Copyright Royalty Board required Spotify to increase royalty payments.
I don’t know whether Apple’s actions constitute unfair and anti-competitive behavior under EU law. Separate and apart from the legalities of the situation though, Spotify’s complaints have struck a chord because they come at a time when new online app stores are taking a significantly smaller cut of revenue. Spotify has other legitimate complaints, like its frustrations with App Review, but what seems to really be driving the dispute is how much Apple charges for access to the App Store and its payment system. Now more than ever, Apple’s 30% cut looks like a bad deal even when that cut is reduced to 15% for the second year of subscriptions.
What makes this dispute unique is that Spotify competes with Apple Music and is big enough to grab public attention and raise the stakes for Apple by getting European regulators involved. Usually, this sort of fight would play out privately, but by making their disagreement very public and involving regulators, Spotify may have taken the outcome out of its and Apple’s control.
If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, you’re probably familiar with its playlist artwork styles. Some work well to tie together collections of related playlists like Decades, Essentials, and Deep Cuts. The trouble is though, that has also bred a certain sameness across Apple Music’s many playlists. That’s beginning to change as Apple rolls out custom playlist artwork from high-profile music industry artists.
Bijan Stephen of The Verge was told that the new artwork is designed to:
“connect more directly with the communities and the culture for which they were intended,” says Rachel Newman, Apple’s global director of editorial. Before now, Apple’s playlists had a uniform presentation that didn’t necessarily speak to the music. “In many ways, it’s a visual representation of the music that you will find inside that playlist,” said Newman.
Newman told Stephen that the company is rolling out the new artwork over the next few months and intends to redesign ‘many thousands’ of playlists.
The Verge also spoke to several artists involved in the project for its story. Stole “Moab” Stojmenov who created the cover of the Migos’ album Culture explained how he approached the challenge:
“Giving a shape and an image to music is never an easy process,” he wrote. “My style and my creative process have been always characterised by a significant presence of symbology and very powerful images, in addition to a very minimal and simple design. I think this project was somehow a bit different, but it also gave me the chance to create a real manifesto of my style.
The new playlist art published so far is excellent. There’s a wide range of styles that suit the music showcased in each playlist. By drawing on a wide range of talent from the music industry, the company should be able to imbue each playlist with a personality that was sometimes lacking in the past.
Soor, a third-party client for Apple Music created by indie developer Tanmay Sonawane, is based upon a fascinating premise: unlike other standalone music players for iPhone, Soor works with Apple's native MusicKit API, enabling direct integration with Apple Music; unlike Apple's Music app though, Soor prioritizes one-handed gestures, user customization, and a single-page design that packs multiple sections into one view. In theory, Soor should be the optimal blend of two different worlds – a third-party music player with its own aesthetic and stylistic choices combined with Apple Music data and the service's vast streaming catalog. In practice, while Soor has some solid ideas I'd like to see in Apple Music too, and despite its intriguing visual design, the app doesn't qualify as a complete replacement for the Music app on iPhone.
Mitchel Broussard of MacRumors recently published an in-depth look at the problems classical music fans have with Apple Music's approach to that expansive genre. Unlike many other common genres, such as hip-hop, pop, and country, the range of music deemed 'classical' bears its own unique challenges in a variety of areas. Broussard spoke to Benjamin Charles and Franz Rumiz, classical music enthusiasts, who shared their frustrations with how Apple Music fails to optimize for classical music's distinctness. He writes:
[Apple Music's Classical] section spans centuries, including all of the notable composers like Mozart (born 1756, died 1791), Maurice Ravel (b. 1875, d. 1937), and John Cage (b. 1912, d. 1992), but this grouping is frustrating for classical music aficionados, given how little these musicians have in common among one another...Rumiz: "The sorting of recordings follows the rules of pop & rock genre. For classical music this doesn’t fit at all, because you very often want to compare different recordings of the same pieces by the same composer with different soloists, orchestras and conductors."
Charles says that one aspect of classical music that's mixed up in the shuffle is the listener's interest in a piece's composer versus its performer. While some artists, like Leonard Bernstein, both compose and perform their music, Charles questions how Apple Music determines the best recording for a piece of music: "Is a recording more significant because it is composed by Bach, or is it more significant because it is performed by Glenn Gould?"
Classical music also can be extremely difficult to request of Siri due to the unique names for many classical tracks, and there are several other issues highlighted in the article, all of which appear like legitimate hindrances to a great classical music experience on Apple's platform.
Overall Apple Music's handling of classical music seems more like an oversight than an intentional design choice, but Broussard and his interviewees make a strong case that Apple should take note of. As the last line of the article states:
"This is a completely untapped market," Charles tells me. "One streaming service could completely own the classical music audience if it wanted to."
In advance of 2019's Grammy awards, airing this Sunday, February 10, Apple has shared three new Apple Music ads on its YouTube channel. Each minute-long ad is a music video wherein well known artists are represented in Memoji form. One video features Ariana Grande, another Khalid, and the final one Florida Georgia Line.
Last year Apple shared music videos featuring Animoji ahead of the Grammys, so this year's decision to use Memoji is a natural evolution following iOS 12's debut in September.
Although Animoji Karaoke hasn't caught on much in broader culture despite commercials like these, it's still fun seeing Apple highlight one of iOS' more whimsical features alongside its music service.
Apple's ever-growing focus on services was on display during yesterday's quarterly earnings call, and today the company is continuing that narrative by announcing a new partnership with American Airlines that enables Apple Music subscribers to stream music while flying, even without paying for in-flight Wi-Fi. From Apple's press release:
Starting Friday, Apple Music subscribers can enjoy their access to over 50 million songs, playlists and music videos on any domestic American Airlines flight equipped with Viasat satellite Wi-Fi with no Wi-Fi purchase required. American Airlines is the first commercial airline to provide exclusive access to Apple Music through complimentary inflight Wi-Fi.
“For most travelers, having music to listen to on the plane is just as important as anything they pack in their suitcases,” said Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music. “With the addition of Apple Music on American flights, we are excited that customers can now enjoy their music in even more places. Subscribers can stream all their favorite songs and artists in the air, and continue to listen to their personal library offline, giving them everything they need to truly sit back, relax and enjoy their flight.”
When it comes to hardware and software, Apple is famously known for maintaining a very closed ecosystem, but fortunately there's mounting evidence that the company's services approach will utilize a new playbook. Apple Music coming to Amazon Echo, AirPlay 2 and iTunes content being built into TV sets, and now this American Airlines deal demonstrate a desire to spread Apple services further than ever before.