By Patrick Infurna
89.9 million eager listeners tuned in to Apple Music to listen to the world debut of Drake’s highly anticipated album More Life. The crowd shattered the shortly-held record of 56 million that Ed Sheeran’s Divide attracted in its first 24 hours on Spotify. Artists like Drake are leading the musical world into a new age, where streaming services have become the new record shops and debut live streams have resembled concerts. As Drake dominates the charts, will he take Apple Music with him for the ride? 89.9 million people answer a resounding ‘yes.’
On March 17, Drake announced to his 35 million Instagram followers that his album More Life would make its debut on his Beats 1 radio show OVO Sound Radio the following day. At 6 p.m. EST, listeners from around the world tuned in to Apple Music to listen to the broadcast. Gone are the days of listening to newly released records by oneself, this debut became a shared experience. With the playing of each new song, there was a global and instantaneous reaction on social media.
The head of Beats 1, Zane Lowe, recognized the novelty of the event as he told The Verge, “When I hear a record go out like [More Life], I’m transported into the same place that I hope millions of other people are, which is I’m listening to it at the same time and I’m following the reaction on social media, and I’m getting texts from my friends in different parts of the world.”
Drake is not the only artist to recognize the potential of Apple Music. Pharrell Williams released his single “Freedom” on Beats 1, along with Lorde’s most recent “Green Light.” Why are artists gravitating towards Apple Music instead of competing streaming services like Spotify? It comes down, in large part, to the man at the helm, Zane Lowe, and the vision he has for the future of music. A well-known DJ in the United Kingdom, Lowe has firmly established himself in the world of music with a decade-long run as the host of BBC Radio 1. With his fingers on the pulse of the music industry, he has promoted the early careers of Adele, Ed Sheeran and the Arctic Monkeys. Apple has had good reason to give him the keys to its Beats 1 radio show and assign him the tremendous task of making radio more relevant.
In order to lure users away from established streaming services such as SoundCloud, Spotify and Pandora, Zane Lowe plans on rebuilding the framework of music distribution. As he sees it right now, a vast amount of potential content is being lost due to the current nature of streaming music. Chart topping singles are released, streamed and added to individuals’ playlists with little context accompanying the songs. Lowe expressed his goal of reinventing playlists in a CNET interview, “I use playlists and I make them, but there should be a room for creativity, and for culture, and for romance as well. Otherwise it is just like, [in a robotic tone] that is out, go and play it.” Beats 1 Radio gives artists a platform to present their work in the contextualized and stylized manner as they see fit. Lowe went on to say, “Distribution is a choice, and artists should be entitled to decide how they want their record to go…What can I do with the record when I get it? How can I make noise for that artist and make as much noise as possible? That’s all I care about.”
One major promotional opportunity that Beats 1 offers artists is the chance to host their own one hour radio show to discuss their newest work. This gives artists a unique opportunity to not only build excitement for their music, but to also guide listeners through their album. With a direct connection to their fans, they can share how their work was influenced by the culture surrounding them. Small square pamphlets that accompany physical albums are replaced by the words and further sentiments of the artists themselves.
Providing additional content may not be enough for Apple Music to reinvent streaming, as Lowe believes that it must keep up with the ever increasingly fast-paced nature of social media. In a way, Beats 1 hopes to streamline the flood of the hottest music being produced, while still presenting users with lesser known music that they may have otherwise missed out on. He explained this key element to the New York Times’ Ben Sisario, “Everyone keeps going to their devices because of fear of missing out…what am I missing? I want that for radio. What’s on right now…that I didn’t know I wanted to listen to?”
After streaming gave the music industry a complete overhaul, Apple began playing second fiddle to ever expanding streaming platforms, such as Spotify. The fast paced, high volume method of music distribution caused much of artists’ content to be lost in the shuffle. However, when paired up with Drake and Zane Lowe, Apple Music may be ready to reinvent the industry once again.