A year ago, Beats by Dre headphone giants Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine announced the next step for their brand was to launch a digital-subscription music service. The news was not met with the greatest approval.
After all, the existing marketplace -- crowded with streaming leaders such as Pandora and Spotify, relative new kids like Rdio and Google Play, and godfather Rhapsody -- had been contributing to many fans' large music libraries for years now. Why did these two guys, who had already pocketed millions and redefined how we hear music, need to jump into this world? But much like their headphones, Beats' pitch has been about quality, more specifically focusing upon what's next.
Tuesday, BeatsMusic debuted as a free download on multiple mobile platforms from Android to Apple's iTunes store. The subscription is $10 a month following a trial period; AT&T users can opt for a $15 family plan to let five family members listen on a total of up to ten devices. The service offers more than 20 million songs on demand, the ability to follow fellow users (much like Spotify) and the ability to download tracks for offline listening.
But this isn't just another celebrity-sponsored music service with Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor as chief operating officer. In much the way Beats redefined how you listen to music (and how you look wearing the product as a fashion statement), the service itself is specifically geared toward you the listener.
There are "Intro" playlists that give users the feel of getting to know an artist their friend just put them onto. Which is to say yes, you Coachella-bound hipsters who only remember OutKast from Stankonia or "Hey Ya" and "The Way You Move," somebody has created an "Intro To OutKast" playlist to smarten you up.
The first thing you notice after downloading the app (I used the iPhone version) is how crisp and smoothly designed it is. A pop-up bubble interface asks you to narrow down your own personal music preferences before you even hear a single song. I quickly pushed aside country and world music and opted for an eclectic mix of funk, R&B, folk/blues, rap/hip-hop, indie and rock.
Then the app shifts to an artist-building platform based on those selections. You'd be hard-pressed to see Drake grouped together with Rage Against the Machine, Lou Reed and Jerry Butler very often, but here we are.
Finally, the app's main screen tinkers with your own personal preferences with a variety of options like "Just For You," a library built selectively from your initial choices; selections and playlists from industry bigwigs and magazines; and a typical search according to genres and activities -- finally, a gym-specific playlist that won't lead you to hearing Steely Dan's "Do It Again" in awkward moments. A "curators' tab" even highlights new songs, playlists and artists from some of the best experts in music.
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But one of the niftier aspects of BeatsMusic is the "Sentence" tab, which pretty much mad-libs a scenario and gives you a song for it. For example, the one when you start up the app is relatively tame: "I'm on the Streets and Feel Like Driving With Your Mom to Jazz." For the "quiet storm"-inclined, the mad-lib can be configured to say, "I'm in Bed and Feel Like Getting It on With Myself to Rap."
The playlists get so nuanced and synchronized that you wind up turning into a digital crate-digger, listening to songs that sampled one singular artist. For example, the first playlist thrown my way was all of the tracks recently produced by Drake's right-hand man Noah "40" Shebib, and it credited him as the architect behind the rapper's atmospheric sound. Another list highlighted every single rapper Kendrick Lamar shouted out in his "Control" verse that became a giant rap talking point last August, while still another cracked open the Best of '60s Soul.
BeatsMusic's jump into the streaming game might be a little late, but much like their stylish headphones, they're coming in with a splash. Simplifications of certain aspects, such as saving those carefully manicured playlists, may be key in updates, but for an initial rollout, no music service has stepped on the block and forced its competition to figure out something new to attract its current crop of subscribers. They're not looking for those to test out its flashy new product; they're looking for long-term commitments.
If Dre and Iovine have already hooked the world to their line of headphones, they may be even more serious in their ambitions to change how you listen to music in this aspect. The company has always been the bright, shiny thing in its chosen marketplace, and despite a few rough spots here and there, its streaming-music imprint is set to be here for a while.
The $10 fee is standard for all services, but compared to what the other streaming platforms offer? Beats may cause plenty of other streaming subscribers to make the switch.
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