I’ve tried pretty much all of the streaming music services. Spotify has a great library, but the app stinks and it’s seen virtually no improvements since launch. Rdio has a much better app, but the library isn’t quite as good as Spotify. Xbox Music has been relegated to very few platforms until recently—same with Google Play Music All Access. MOG was fantastic, but the userbase was almost nonexistent and when they were purchased by Beats the writing was on the wall for further improvements to the service.
Which brings us to this week’s launch of Beats Music in the USA. Beats is mostly known for partnering with Monster Audio and building a hugely successful line of headphones. Audiophiles have known for years that the cheapest path to incredible sound is spending a couple hundred bucks on a great pair of headphones, and Beats can be credited with a fantastic marketing campaign which brought that message to the masses. Unfortunately they can also be blamed for injecting so much margin into their own products that spending a couple hundred bucks on a pair of Beats gets you much less sound quality than most of their competitors.
So when I heard that Beats had purchased MOG I didn’t think much of it. Then I heard that Trent Reznor had taken a a role as “Chief Creative Officer” of the service, then codenamed ‘Daisy’. Reznor who essentially is Nine Inch Nails, and recently won an Oscar for scoring The Social Network has long been at the forefront of creative new solutions to the growing challenges of the music industry. My interest was piqued. Cut to this week—Beats Music launched, and they’re doing things differently than their competitors, and it’s a breath of fresh air.
They have the table stakes covered — strong library of music and good clients on the major mobile platforms, but they’re beating the competition in a crucial way—discovery. Discovery on a streaming music service is the most important feature. When I first signed up for streaming music with Spotify, I spent a ton of time replicating the library of music that I kept on my computer. Then the growth of my library pretty much stopped. If a new album came out from one of my favorite artists I would add it, but I wasn’t broadening the list of artists I listen to at all.
There are other more subtle aspects that are better too. Spotify pretty much only thinks of music in terms of songs. Rdio has songs & albums. Beats differentiates between Albums, EPs and songs. Subtle, but it’s clear that they understand the world of music more than the competition. You can follow your friends (but as an adult it’s pretty rare that I make friends based on shared musical interests) so you can follow artists as well. Following an artist who’s music I love is much more likely to result in finding music that I will actually want to listen to.
Streaming music services are all you can eat, but without having an incredible discovery engine it’s like eating a big meal and never getting hungry again. Beats solves that in a number of ways. After learning about your music habits, they feature playlists, artists & albums that they think you’ll like. They also have hundreds if not thousands of curated playlists, which they seem to be adding to daily. Finally there is a feature called The Sentence which lets you make a statement about your mood and your whereabouts and they will just start playing music (similar to some of the radio features on competing services).
The result is that after I added about 10 of the albums that I’ve been listening to recently, I quickly found myself perusing playlists, trying out artists I’d never heard of, and finding lots and lots of interesting stuff. Like “working out on the dance floor”? They’ve got you covered. How about Jay-Z’s favorite non-rap songs? Want to listen to the top tracks of 2013 according to Rolling Stone? Yep, got that too.
Beats Music gets it right. Where Spotify and the rest are really good at playing all the music that you already know you like, Beats is also great at helping you find new artists that you don’t yet know you like, and that’s essential to justifying the ongoing cost of a streaming music service.