Apple has just unveiled Apple Music, the latest - and highly significant - development in its music offering. The announcement came as part of its latest developers conference, hosted by CEO Tim Cook in America.
Why significant? When launched, iTunes - in conjunction with the company's iPods - radically transformed the music industry, the way people bought music and what constituted a ‘record’ collection. It was the start of a switch for many music buyers from physical to digital (or more accurately, to virtual). ‘We’ve had a long relationship with music, and music has had a rich history of change, some of which we’ve played a part in,’ said Tim Cook, with a certain degree of understatement, at least from a technological point of view.
However, in more recent years Apple’s download-only model began to see increasing competition from streaming services such as Spotify, Qobuz and, more recently, Tidal among listeners who, for a fixed monthly subscription price, appreciated the flexibility of access to pretty much anything they might choose to listen to. This is about to change as the company launches Apple Music.
Subscribers to the service will have access to ‘tens of millions of tracks in the iTunes library’, with the service priced at (for US buyers) $9.99 per month. (UK prices haven’t been announced, but the price will clearly compete with existing rival services, so perhaps £10). For $14.99 a family can have up to six accounts, each with its own library and recommendations.
It’s those recommendations that Apple hopes will justify its description of the service as ‘revolutionary’. A large part of today’s presentation was focused on playlists, and the way the service will choose what you might want to listen to, based on what it knows you like. It claims these recommendations will be based on judgements made by people, not by algorithms.
Other significant features include ‘tens of thousands of music videos’ (competing with another rival service, YouTube, perhaps), and the opportunity for unsigned artists to make their music available. It’s also hoped that artists will use it as a further way to engage with their audiences, offering behind-the-scenes photos and lyrics for example. The service will be available from June 30 in more than 100 countries for users of Apple devices, and from the autumn for Android users. The first three months of the service will be free.
At this stage it’s too early to tell what Apple Music might offer the classical music listener, though there is of course a huge catalogue of classical recordings on iTunes, and so we can assume that the promised playlists, recommendations and additional content will apply to classical music just as much as to rock, pop, jazz and any other genre. Many artists and labels have increasingly seen online outlets as a way to offer wider context to the music they are offering (crucial in a genre such as classical music, where that context can make a powerful contribution in engaging new and less knowledgable audiences). It would also be wonderful if we were to see ‘classical’ music being presented to listeners more familiar with other genres, particularly in those areas where genre 'boundaries' merge, or where artists step seamlessly between them.
We’ll report on more as we learn more, so watch this space…